Let’s face it, for nonprofits fundraising is the name of the game. You could have all the good intentions in the world, an army of volunteers, and magic shaman monkeys, (this is not really a thing) but without capital your nonprofit will eventually fail. It’s a sad reality, but the truth is you must spend as much time fundraising as you do affecting the target of your nonprofit. Successful, mature nonprofit boards are ALWAYS fundraising - at every event, with their personal contacts, family, friends, and business associates, at social functions and gatherings, and they use whatever public means they have access to to promote their cause. In many cases, it’s the volunteers that get to spend the most time fulfilling a nonprofit’s mission, while the board focuses on acquiring and managing resources. That division of energy is something new board members are frequently unaware of and quickly have to come to terms with.
I was the board president of a small nonprofit for two years.
It’s a volunteer board in a small town with the great hope of building an arts and culture space in a re-developed mill. Luckily, the space itself had been provided to us free of charge from the mill developer, which was part of the purchase agreement between the developer and the former owner of the mill. What we got was essentially a 5000 square foot blank canvas. It was our job to build it out into a theater/gallery flex space. I sought after and became president because:
1. I had a passion for the project. And
2. I am a strong operations manager which I knew would come in handy during our buildout.
What I only partially considered (if at all) was that in order to fund the buildout, we first needed to acquire capital, and the ultimate responsibility of acquiring funds rested on my shoulders. Duh!
I realized that fundraising was not something I was particularly comfortable with, and had virtually no experience at. But it wasn’t only me, my board was similarly limited. You see, the board was created almost a decade before the space was acquired, knowing full well acquisition was an eventuality, but not knowing how long it would actually take. So, while they waited, they began organizing art, music, theater, and cultural events around town. Most events were low key and low budget, so large scale fundraising was never a priority. It wasn’t until the space was acquired that our original purpose came into play, and we were faced with the need to transform our board from a planning group to a fundraising group. That was our first order of business, and within a few months we were able to add several members with a fundraising background and connections to tap into. With their help we raised enough funds in six months to complete our first phase of buildout, and the vision began to take shape. The first lesson of managing a successful fundraising campaign is bring in the right people. Here are four other lessons I learned.
Never manage your contacts in a spreadsheet.
Nonprofits have to communicate with a variety of different groups. You have members, volunteers, donors, prospective donors, service providers, and the general public. You also have businesses and organizations that group people together, so there’s a hierarchical challenge to databasing your contacts as well. Spreadsheets are powerful tools, but using them as a contact manager will severely limit you ability to effectively organize the people important to your nonprofit. A good contact manager will allow you to categorize your contacts, which is essential because you communicate different information to different groups. Also, using a contact manager gives your fundraisers the ability to record their interactions with potential donors, which is a must for making sure everyone is on the same page, and that a potential donor isn’t contacted by multiple fundraisers. With a contact manager, you can assign donation targets and keep track of potential incoming funds - important for serious fundraisers.
Give donors the ability to donate whenever the mood strikes.
My uncle taught me a valuable business lesson when I opened my first company. He told me to make it easy for my customers to pay me. At first, this seems like a sophomoric statement at best. But then I thought about it a bit. How many businesses don’t accept a certain kind of credit card because they think the fees are too high? Many. And this is fine, but what you’re doing is making paying you at least a little bit more inconvenient for a percentage of your customers. And like it or not, this will always be a strike against you. Well it’s the same thing with donors. Make sure you give them a convenient way to give you money. Always have a prominent donate button on your website, and link to it with every press release, email blast, or blog post you put out. Make sure your social media profiles link to your donation page. And have volunteers ready to accept donations on your nonprofit’s behalf at every event.
Reach out to your donor base regularly.
Your nonprofit may do awesome work, but you’ll severely limit your fundraising if no one knows about it. Your community, members, volunteers, and donors need to feel like they belong to an active force of change, so regale them with tails of your mighty exploits. Create a blog and post regularly. Send out newsletters and social media posts. Post pictures and videos. Your events may sell your mission, but it’s your content that fuels the passion of your community. Use a platform that offers an email blaster, blog, and calendar, and gives you the ability to post images and videos. Make sure the tools you use connect seamlessly. There’s nothing more frustrating than battling the technology you’ve employed to help make things easier.
Analyze your reach.
Time is a limited supply, especially with a volunteer board. Everyone has jobs, families, and other commitments outside of board life, so it’s important to maximize your efforts. The only way to know for sure if your communication is effective, is to measure it. For instance, by knowing how many people read each blog post, you can figure out what subjects are appealing to your audience, and thus produce more of it. By knowing how many people like and share each social media posts, you can produce more of it. Your goal is to increase your reach (social media followers, and email subscribers) over time by creating relevant and inspiring content. The larger your reach, the more active voices you have to broadcast your events and fundraising goals. Make sure you’re using tools that allow you to measure clicks, shares and opens. Tools like Buffer
can help you measure the affect of your social media posts. Use Google Analytics to track interaction with your website, or some platforms like Brick River
include metrics with their Content Management System.
Fundraising is the life-sustaining task every mature nonprofit must perfect, and success means your mission can continue.