The fundraising landscape has changed significantly in the past ten years, and nonprofits have to adapt to succeed. Trying new fundraising techniques can help your organization grow and meet donors’ rising expectations. But where should you start?
What’s Changed In Nonprofit Fundraising?
Donors, nonprofit professionals, and technology have all shifted, making new kinds of fundraising both possible and necessary.
Today’s donors expect personalized attention and to give on their own terms. They want to be more involved with the causes and organizations they care about. Traditional giving is ok, but now they also want to share their time, expertise, or social networks. They want to give in a way that makes them feel included, not just a source of revenue.
Some habits leftover from previous eras alienate these needs of donors today. Starting your fundraising letter with, “Dear Supporter” was understandable when you were mimeographing your direct mail letter, but in an email it sounds like you don’t care. Likewise, donors are turned off by confusing websites, generic communications and organizations that don’t value their generosity.
Technology has made it possible to collect the data you need to create better experiences. You can track donor behavior and use what you know to provide the kind of personalization they expect. Robust data has also created new opportunities for nonprofits to new audiences with messages that resonate. The ease with which your nonprofit can leverage all of these new possibilities means your organization can no longer ignore the new ways donors want to be engaged when you’re trying to increase generosity.
New Kinds of Nonprofit Fundraising Strategies
Every organization will have to figure out which new strategies make sense for their fundraising. Rather than jumping onto every hot fundraising trend, start with these new ways to think about old fundraising habits.
Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Programs
You can’t go on Facebook these days without seeing someone raising money for an organization they support. Peer-to-peer fundraising uses online tools to transform supporters into fundraisers. Volunteers share your message with their friends and family, using their social connections to support your cause.
Peer-to-peer fundraising offers organizations an organic way to extend their reach, using the power of personal connections. People are naturally more interested in messages from their friends and family than they are in those from organizations, so peer-to-peer fundraising brings the nonprofit into the conversation in an organic way.
This approach isn’t technically new. Walk-a-thons and races for charity are a classic version of peer-to-peer fundraising. But the popularity of social networks plus the ease of online donation forms have both made peer-to-peer fundraising easier than it’s ever been. No more signup forms or managing money from your friends—now you just email a link or share a campaign on social media.
Supporters benefit from peer-to-peer, too. For people who want to be more involved with your organization, but aren’t interested in traditional volunteer opportunities, fundraising is a flexible way to do more. Supporters who have more time and enthusiasm than money can exponentially increase their impact by fundraising for the organizations they care about.
The social proof of doing something good also makes supporters feel good about themselves. Any time your organization is connected to a donor’s feeling of joy and direct impact helps increase the odds that they will give a second or third time.
What Organizations Should Try Peer-to-Peer Fundraising?
Peer-to-peer fundraising is best for organizations that have some established supporters, but you don’t necessarily need a multitude. Thanks to social media, most people are connected to broad networks, so a small group of volunteers, like your board members, can have an outsized impact.
Peer-to-peer can stand alone, or be part of a larger campaign. Many organizations kick off their year-end fundraising with a peer-to-peer campaign on Giving Tuesday. Others may fundraise online as a complement to in-person events.
You can run a peer-to-peer campaign for general operating funds, but the most successful campaigns usually focus on one program or project. People want to be part of making a specific change, so you’ll raise more money and build more good will by focusing on one thing.
Donors bring more to the table than money. They have talents, professional skills and social networks, all of which they may be willing to share with you. Create opportunities for donors to weigh in on fundraising and everyone wins. Organizations benefit from donors’ contributions and donors feel a sense of commitment to your organization they wouldn’t in any other giving opportunity. When they are involved from the beginning, they feel a sense of pride and ownership in whether your campaign or initiative is a success. That long-term donor loyalty is necessary for nonprofit growth.
As you learn new interests and passions your donors have, update their records in your CRM. Add details like their jobs, hobbies, favorites and connections. Then, use this data to make more informed, strategic asks. Your response rate will always be higher when the request makes sense and is something that donor is excited about.
You can invite donors to brainstorm with you one-on-one or in group sessions. Online meetings eliminate the need to be in the same place, making meetings easier for donors with busy schedules or geographic distance.
You can ask donors to weigh in on specific problems, or collect their general ideas and feedback. You can ask for feedback on concrete things, like:
- What do you think of these marketing materials?
- Do you have a favorite part of the gala? Is there anything we should never do again?
- Does this job description make sense to you? Are we leaving something out?
Or more conceptual things, like:
- How do you describe our organization to others?
- Who needs to know about us? How do we reach them?
- What surprises you most about our organization?
Explore Failed Campaigns
One of the reasons nonprofits hesitate to try new things is because they’re haunted by a failed campaign. Maybe it was recent, maybe it was a couple of years ago, but something didn’t work out and you didn’t raise enough money. Now you (or your boss, or your board) are scared to try something new.
The problem with “playing it safe” is that it isn’t actually safe at all.The same-old methods of fundraising are becoming less and less effective. Nonprofits who don’t respond to the changes in the landscape won’t grow.
Failed campaigns hold a lot of information about why something did or did not work, and with a CRM, email provider, or donor database, it’s easy to find it. As you dig into your data, you’ll find a bigger picture that you can learn from. Consider the following.
Did You Give the New Strategy Enough of a Chance?
Sometimes fundraisers’ expectations for new initiatives are not realistic. Anything less than resounding success disappoints them and they conclude that entire fundraising methods, like peer-to-peer, “don’t work.”
New methods of fundraising can take a little time to percolate with donors. If you only tried something once, you don’t have enough data to really know how it works for your organization. With a few message tweaks, your donors may have flocked to your crowdfunding campaign. Or maybe nobody in your town wanted to bowl for charity, but they would have loved a 5K walk. If you only tried once, you’ll never figure that out.
With a second try, you’ll have a more accurate understanding of a technique. You’ll eliminate some of the first-time learning curve, and be able to get right to refining your message and connecting with donors. With two campaigns under your belt, you’ll have data you can compare. If the second effort performs better than the first, you’re probably on the right track.
Where Was Engagement the Lowest or Highest?
People probably didn’t universally ignore your campaign. Track your performance metrics closely and you’ll see more specifically what worked and what didn’t. Maybe you had a high email response rate and a low direct mail one, which suggests that your donors may prefer to give online. Or that your email message was more compelling than your appeal. Or that your direct mail list is out of date. There are a number of possibilities to investigate before writing the entire endeavor off as a failure.
Considering how donors chose to give, which donors responded to the campaign, and which messages performed best gives you a lot of information about your donors’ preferences and the effectiveness of your fundraising. You can use these lessons to do more of what works and correct what doesn’t in future fundraising efforts.
What Was Unavoidable, and What Is Fixable?
Sometimes the thing that makes a campaign fail is completely out of an organization’s control. Weather, disasters, recessions, political climates — these things can derail absolutely perfect fundraising.
It’s important to know that so you don’t waste time scrambling to fix things that aren’t broken or discard fundraising techniques for the wrong reasons. If your fundraising event was held on the day of the biggest blizzard on record, people probably didn’t skip it because your messaging didn’t resonate, for example.
Of course, in the average failed campaign, you’ll find more things that are fixable than not. Break down what you did and didn’t do, especially in the areas that performed the worst. The details are where you’ll get the most information.
When you get into specifics of your behavior and engagement data, you can make a plan of attack for next time. If event attendance was low, you may find you didn’t invite people early enough, scheduled in conflict with another major event or that your donor base doesn’t like to go out at night. Changing those things could radically impact your results. Likewise, if no one opened your emails, you can safely conclude that your email strategy needs tweaking.
Did Your Message Resonate?
Look at the performance of your assets. Why did your fundraising video get many views, but no action? Did people open your emails, but never click to donate? Then it’s likely your message wasn’t compelling enough for your audience.
One way to avoid this is to create donor personas. Use your donor data to understand the donor you’re targeting. Messages created for a specific (albeit imaginary) person always resonate better than those designed for the vague “general public.”
For example, if you learn that 40% of your donors are professional women ages 30-50, most of whom have a long history with your cause, you might create “Sara” to guide your thinking as you create your campaign stories.
Sara is a 42-year-old lawyer. She’s married, has kids, and was an active volunteer for our cause in her 20s. Now, she doesn’t have time for on-the-street activism and donations fill that place for her. She cares about advocacy, but is really motivated by concrete actions to end injustice. Petitions are her thing, she loves stories about activists, and she knows a lot about the cause. Sara isn’t interested in surface-level “fluff,” but she’s also too busy to read pages of content—she wants us to get to the point. Sara increases her giving every year, and has the potential to be a major donor in the future.
You can create more than one donor persona. Most organizations should have at least a couple. Messages designed to motivate “Sara” would be very different from those targeting a 20-something activist, or a 70-year-old retired law professor, right? Use donor segmentation to deliver relevant messages to different groups within your donor base.
Create A Response Team
Let’s admit it: there’s probably at least one person on your board who is never going to ask anyone for money.
Some folks are just too uncomfortable to make the ask, even when they have a fundraising responsibility to your organization. Instead of spending your time and effort trying to convince them to do something they don’t want to, find a way for them to participate in fundraising that doesn’t stress them out.
A “response team” takes on the stewardship tasks that show your donors that your organization values their support. These tasks are a crucial part of fundraising, but none of them require asking for a dime.
The response team can:
- write and send thank you notes
- write personal notes on direct mail appeals
- make thank-you calls
- greet donors at events
- lead donors on tours of a program site
- call to personally invite donors to events
- accompany you on major gift visits to talk about programs, not ask
Donor retention is crucial, and a response team can take the burden off of staff to make sure every donor is getting personal attention.
Learn More About Nonprofit Fundraising Strategies
Whether you launch a peer-to-peer campaign, invite your donors to brainstorm, dive into the data of failed campaigns, or activate a response team, new fundraising techniques can bring your nonprofit new revenue and new supporters. Don’t miss out! To get started with digital fundraising, check out our complete guide.