President and Founder, Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
Look around most nonprofit organizations, especially small ones, and you’ll likely see leaders and staff feverishly toiling at the same formula. The ingredients? They’re undoubtedly leaning heavily toward nonprofit fundraising:
- Cranking out grant proposals – regardless if they have the capacity to implement grant projects.
- Planning fundraising events – regardless if they traditionally yield any ROI.
- Begging former donors for support once more – regardless if they’ve kept them engaged.
Sure, minus the desperation, these activities and others can absolutely make up a strong nonprofit fundraising strategy. But quite often, they’re governed by a misguided, one-size-fits-all approach that says, “It worked for them, it’ll work for us.”
Let’s Build a Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy That Works For Your Organization’s Unique Position & Needs
While some activities may have worked wonders for other organizations, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work for yours. Your strategy may need to evolve or stand out in the crowd.
In order to be successful in fundraising, it’s important to take into account your organization’s mission, community makeup, organizational capacities, and life cycle stage.
Let’s break these down a bit more:
Your nonprofit fundraising activities must be aligned with promoting your mission. As my good friend and colleague, the nonprofit fundraising guru Joanne Oppelt always says, “Money always follows mission.”
Your nonprofit’s mission is at the core of everything you do. It’s the reason you exist; the impact you want to make on the world. Your mission must be front and center. Why? Because people don’t give to your organization just because you need money. They give because they believe in your mission. So you must create a powerful connection.
Every aspect of your fundraising should reflect your mission first – from the language you use in your fundraising appeals to the events you hold. It should be reflected in your programs and services, your communications and your branding.
That’s a strong, unified message anyone can get behind. This makes it easier to build and nurture relationships with donors, grant funders, volunteers and partners alike.
Every organization has its capacity – a certain feasible level of functioning under current conditions. It has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s crucial to identify them before developing a fundraising plan. Understanding your organization’s capacity will help you make informed decisions about which fundraising activities will yield the best results.
Board and staff expertise is an essential factor when assessing organizational capacity. If your organization lacks the expertise required for a particular fundraising activity, that activity will probably fail. You may need to invest in staff training or bring in outside help to get the necessary skills.
Size and financial position are also critical components of organizational capacity. Larger nonprofits typically have more resources to invest in fundraising activities than smaller ones. Similarly, a nonprofit with a multimillion-dollar budget may be able to take risks and invest in more expensive fundraising activities than a nonprofit with limited means.
But remember: bigger is not always better when it comes to fundraising. A smaller organization can have a closer relationship with its supporters and a more significant impact on its community. Therefore, it’s crucial to identify your organization’s strengths and capitalize on them while taking into account its limitations. Also consider the long-term sustainability of the organization and the strategy. Some fundraising activities may yield quick results, but they may not be sustainable over the long term.
Organizational Life Cycle
In a similar light, organizations may be better positioned in different stages of their life cycles for certain nonprofit fundraising activities. Like anything else, your needs and realities will be vastly different several years or several decades from now.
As your nonprofit organization evolves, your fundraising activities should also evolve to match your organization’s current stage of development. Organizations may be in different stages of their life cycles, which can significantly affect the type of fundraising activities that are appropriate and effective for them.
If your organization is just starting out, you may need to focus on building awareness and credibility, building relationships with potential donors, and securing seed funding. This may require a heavy focus on social media outreach and networking events. But a strategy heavy in grant writing may not yield as much fruit, as governments and foundations often prefer to fund nonprofits with decades of success.
But if your organization has been active for some time, you likely have a more experienced and well-developed board, staff and volunteer base. Your organizational goals and revenue targets may have also changed. You may be more focused on sustaining your current programs, expanding your reach and diversifying your revenue streams.
Understanding the communities you serve is key. You can’t just cast a wide net and expect to attract donations from everyone who has money to give. Instead, your nonprofit fundraising strategy must define your community and tailor communications and fundraising efforts to specific groups and their precise needs and desires.
Understanding who you need to reach may begin with demographics, such as age, gender or income level. It’ll also certainly revolve around shared interests and values. Identify and use the channels they prefer, whether that’s email, social media, direct mail or something else entirely. It also means referencing in your messaging their distinctive values and beliefs. If you can demonstrate that your nonprofit embodies their values and appreciates their support, you’re much more likely to capture their attention and inspire giving. (And they’ll be more likely to become repeat donors.)
Also, be specific about what you’re asking for and why. Don’t just ask for a general donation. Instead, make a clear and compelling case for why they should give and what specific impact their donation will have.
Build a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan That Fits Your Organization’s Needs
To create a successful nonprofit fundraising plan, it’s important to take into account all of these factors. Don’t just do what has worked in the past or what has worked for other organizations. One size most certainly does not fit all.
Craft a plan that is tailored to your nonprofit’s unique qualities. Choose fundraising activities that promote your mission and intentionally target specific types and sources of support. Leverage your organization’s resources – financial and nonfinancial – and run the numbers to identify the highest ROI fundraising activities. Finally, regularly evaluate your plans to see if they’re still ideal for your present circumstances and long-term sustainability.
By recognizing these realities, you’ll be able to create a nonprofit fundraising strategy that’s uniquely tailored to your nonprofit and maximizes your fundraising potential. If you’re having trouble developing your nonprofit story for fundraising, don’t hesitate to hire an experienced communications consultant to hone your messaging.