Does it seem some organizations get more than their share of donations? Some causes are just more popular with donors than others.
Getting people to choose you, and give generously, feels like a never-ending challenge.
You may find it really hard to raise enough money even though your work is important and you’ve proven your effectiveness.
“What are we doing wrong?” you wonder.
Actually, it’s not you. 99 times out of 100, it’s not how important your cause is, or about proven results or outcomes.
It’s your image, how people see you and how they respond.
After 15 years of supporting nonprofits, I’ve seen organizations struggling to raise enough money. And I’ve also come up with 103 ways to attract the kind of money you need – approaches that make you a magnet to donors and sponsors.
(And lots of them work just as well for attracting volunteers and other resources.)
Make friends before you ask for money
Start by connecting. It’s any easy formula: first you get to know lots of people, then you get them to care. Then you are ready to ask. Work on building your network first!
- Network with purpose. Choose the best networking opportunities in your community and make the most of them.
- Make friends. Enlarge your circle of connections and professional associates, you can’t have too many people who like and respect you.
- Encourage your employees/co-workers to make connections too.
- Partner with other nonprofits. Build strong partnership relationships. You don’t have competition, you have opportunities to grow together.
- Find creative ways to work with organizations outside of your realm – if you’re in social services find an arts or education partner.
- Seek out partners who share your vision in every sector – corporate, nonprofit, government – look for synergy, not for money (yet).
- Make more than one connection. If you’re in with your local bank manager and she gets transferred/fired/quits you have to start all over. Ask her to introduce you to someone else while you have the opportunity.
- Show up. Get a reputation for being in all the right places.
- Open your doors. Do an inventory, make sure your organization is easily accessible online and, literally, at the front door.
- Look great. Yes, you! Make sure you get it together every morning.
- Wear something that makes you stand out. Red shoes, a bow tie, a striking piece of jewelry.
- Invest in branding. Your organization needs to be easily recognized and remembered. Think pink ribbons or The Y.
- Make sure your organization name memorable. Avoid using acronyms, they’re hard to remember.
- Adopt a color for your organization.
- Think big. Speak about vision and possibility, not about the drudgery of work.
- Set goals. The clearer your goals are, the more exciting you are.
- Learn the art of grateful bragging – share the good news AND give credit to others.
- Be a connector. Connectors know a lot of people and they make connections, continually growing their own circle at the same time as helping others expand theirs.
- Create good volunteer opportunities. Volunteers become donors. Create a culture that provides real work for willing people of all ages.
- Eat meals out. Schedule coffee and lunch out as many days as possible – you’re going to eat anyway, don’t do it alone.
- Create a wish list of corporate partners that share your vision.
- Identify foundation partners.
- Know who counts in your community, find out who can make an introduction.
- Research the key “celebrities” in your field. Follow them on social media, comment on their blogs, introduce yourself at conferences etc.
- Wear a name tag. Create a great name tag that is easy for anyone to read and wear it!
- Remember names. Try association or whatever memory trick works for you.
- Collect business cards. Send a quick glad to meet you, follow it up with a question, relevant lead or link…anything to keep the conversation going.
- Connect with the media. Make friends with your community newspapers, radio, TV, websites. They need news, you need them.
Convert people from knowing to caring.
Now you’ve made the connections and lots of people know you. The next step is to get them to care about you and your vision. Here’s some tips.
- Caring comes before giving. You want to move people from knowing you to caring about you.
- Share your passion, it’s contagious.
- Get personal. Talk about your life and why you are drawn to your work and the people you serve.
- Tell a story. Stories connect people.
- Become a better storyteller by doing it often.
- Share your founder’s story.
- Create opportunities to showcase your work. Give a tour, in person and/or virtually.
- Define your values. The more clearly your organization defines its values the easier it is for people to understand you – and care!
- Don’t lead with numbers. Start with an emotional story, the numbers will back you up.
- Invite everyone. Don’t limit your invitations to the wealthy or well connected, you never know where any relationship may lead.
- Follow up. When you meet someone new, send a follow up. Remind them of your connection and, when appropriate, mention something relevant or new about your organization.
- Keep in touch. Create a system for continued communication with everyone you meet. Simply add them to your mailing list or get personal with an email or handwritten note.
- Improve your database. Make sure it works like you do so it is always useful and growing.
- Commit to adding a new contact each day or 3 a week.
- Practice the art of listening, give people a chance to respond to you and share their thoughts.
- Share dreams. It’s another way for people to relate to you and your vision.
- Keep your focus on your vision. Don’t get bogged down in talking about the day-to-day work.
- Surprise people. Do something that makes them rethink who you are.
- Be grateful.
- Honor your donors. Let new friends see how contributions have made a difference in the past.
- Know what you want. Being clear in your mind helps your focus, it also comes in handy when someone asks what you want.
- Know what you need. Needs are not the same as wants, if you have a need, call it that.
- Train everyone to do what you do, turn them into friend raisers.
- Showcase your organization. Seek out opportunities to present at “Shark Tank” style events. The Kaufmann Foundation sponsors 1 Million Cups in some cities, many presenters are for-profit but nonprofits present also.
- Be open to input. If someone cares enough to give you advice or ideas he is worth listening to.
- Emotion drives decisions. Keep that in mind, it is science and it works to your advantage.
Move them from Caring to Giving
When someone cares about you and your vision they are ready to give. You’ve done the prep work, it’s time to ask.
- Make an entry gift easy. Provide a meaningful, simple and direct gift opportunity. Let’s say $5 gives a child a book or $20 feeds a family.
- Promise the gift will go directly to the cause. Seek other ways to cover operational expenses.
- Sometimes you just need to ask.
- Allow designation. Some donors want to specify where their money goes.
- Give choices. Offer A, B or C so they can choose the one they like (and won’t turn you down flat).
- Don’t beg. It really doesn’t become you.
- State what you want.
- Sell products that match your vision. If sales are a source of income be sure the product is a good fit. Like recycle bins (not gift wrap) for an ecology group.
- Sell services that match your vision. Offer services you have the unique expertise to provide.
- Don’t jump on the latest craze. (Why did a homeless organization just send me an invitation to a murder mystery party?)
- Don’t try 5 different fundraising ideas. Find your niche. The most successful organizations don’t diversify, they find what works and perfect it.
- Have the numbers ready. The decision to give is emotional but be ready to make your donor feel she made the right choice.
- A million small donations are better than one big one. Let all your friends give, at any level.
- Use video to be where your best spokesperson can’t be. Clients/service recipients are usually happy to be in a video. Use it online and at events.
- Ask for a 5 year pledge. Donors understand you need stability.
- Be relevant. These are friends of the organization, know what matters to them.
- Allow for a bigger gift. When you charge a fixed price for an event most attendees feel they’ve done their share.
- Reconsider galas and other costly events. The investment is large (time, food, entertainment etc.) and the opportunity to share your vision is limited.
- Gather a crowd. It’s just as easy to ask 200 people for a donation as it is 1.
- Come from a place of opportunity. You are offering them the opportunity to be part of something special.
- Tap into givers’ needs. The better you know your donors, the more you can understand why they care and how they may want to help.
- Time is money. Appreciate, honor and value volunteers.
- Your board members are the BFFs of your organization.
- Ask for help. Remember it is an honor to be asked.
- Ask for advice.
- Be specific, $5000 gives you naming rights to an event or program.
- Include children. Find an appropriate way for children to give and fundraise. It gets the whole family involved and creates budding philanthropists.
- Make legacy an option.
- Pay attention to others needs and how they may match yours. A man owned an island he wanted to get rid of; a Girl Scout council needed land for a camp. When asked why he gave the land to the Girl Scouts he said, “They asked.” True story.
- Charge for training. Some volunteers will pay for training, it covers costs and gets them committed from the start.
- Show results. Let donors know, formally and causally, publicly and privately how their work is paying off.
- Create a donor’s club. When you have a couple influential people in the group, others will want to be there too.
- Respect the wishes of donors. Some like to be touted and to attend events where they are applauded; others want to be left alone.
Keep the Love Flowing
Don’t stop! Once they have entered your circle, keep them in the loop. Make everyone feel welcome and connected to your good work.
- Retain each and every friend. Make a plan to stay connected!
- Let the benefactors speak. Those who already love you and contribute in some way are the best spokespersons you could want. Use them.
- Give people one great event to look forward to each year.
- Provide talking points for your staff, board, volunteers.
- Capture stories. One organizations asks each staff member to share their Miracle of the Month.
- Send those hand written thank you notes!
- Promote loyalty. Think of Starbucks or whatever other store you are devoted to. What did they do to lure you in and keep you?
- Don’t wait for big accomplishments, celebrate the little victories.
- Don’t ask for money on every occasion. Create opportunities to be with your friends and fans without asking for anything.
- Be creative. Low cost, thoughtful gifts, decorations etc. show your ingenuity and make everyone feel special.
- Show them what their money is doing.
- Use names, pictures, live testimonials. Use every opportunity to tell real stories of the recipients of your services or programs.
- Send a private friends update.
- Encourage others to follow your lead; let other voices from your organization – including staff, board and donors – be heard.
- Make connecting, thanking and sharing habits. They aren’t extras, they are the most valuable work you can do to move your organization forward.
Take a look at your organization and get started using these ideas to boost your fundraising. Make sure you look at all four phases:
- Make Friends
- Move them from Knowing to Caring
- Then move them from Caring to Giving
- Finally, Keep Strong Relationships
You and your organization will be donor magnets!
Merle Benny is the founder of Nonprofit Champion, home to smart nonprofit leaders. Additionally, she’s a humorous and dynamic speaker, a skilled workshop leader and an enthusiastic host at Nonprofit Champion networking events.
Merle enthusiastically shares her passion for nonprofits, marketing and storytelling. As a consultant and coach she provides support and creative problem solving to nonprofit leaders and other consultants.
Merle is a presenter at the Nonprofit Consultants Institute, an annual training offered by Association of Nonprofit Specialists for new and rising consultants.