This week Giant Squid Group is thrilled to feature a guest post from Naomi Milstein on how she used fundraising best practices to double the individual giving of her nonprofit in just one year!
When I started as the Executive Director at a small, grassroots nonprofit, the organization was running a deficit, and we projected cash flow shortfalls a couple times a year. Though I was fairly new to fundraising, it was clear we needed to change our strategy.
Within my first year, we overhauled our fundraising approach. By the time I left four years later, we had multiple years with a healthy cash flow and ended with a small surplus. Individual giving was just one piece of this transformation, but we were able to double our individual giving in one year because of good relationships, good strategy, and good planning.
Want to do something similar? Here are some tips:
Analyze your donor data
If possible, look back three years to summarize the number of donors, average gift size, number of recurring donors, and how they gave. Analyze how much you raise during various fundraising activities. Make personal outreach to a diverse set of donors, including large, long-time, new, and small donors. Ask them why they give and how they like to give. What patterns emerge?
This can be a great opportunity to involve your board. This will help them form relationships with your donors and help both groups feel a more personal stake in your work.
Make a detailed annual fundraising plan
Before we had a detailed plan, we used general fundraising goals, a calendar of activities, and a lot of hope for success. We didn’t always have realistic expectations for how much we could raise, and our fundraising and communication methods were getting stale. As one could predict, we often fell behind throughout the year and would have to launch a MASSIVE fundraising push before the end of the fiscal year to make up the difference. It was exhausting and not always successful.
Making a detailed fundraising plan made all the difference. Include fundraising goals and activities, a detailed planning process with due dates, who is responsible for what, and a detailed communications plan. Use past results to set achievable goals for the future. Make them slightly higher than the previous year if you want, but don’t overdo it.
Use your donor analysis to plan fundraising activities that make sense for you and your donors. Many of our donors were part of the nonprofit community and didn’t have much disposable income. They used technology and did not respond to mailed appeal letters. So our fundraising plan included more technology, more online giving opportunities, and a way for donors to give lower amounts on a recurring basis.
Create systems for monthly giving and talk about it all the time
This is a great option for almost anyone because donors can sign up at a level that works for their budget. It also helps with cash flow.
Monthly giving is easy to set up with online donation systems or directly through a donor’s bank. Chose multiple levels such as $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, and other. Make the donation button on your website easy to find and navigate. If possible, offer cute SWAG.
Then promote it. Everywhere. ALL. THE. TIME. Put links on your website. Put links in your digital newsletter and on your social media pages. Ask your board to promote it. Recruit your donors to share on social media about why they give. Talk about it when people ask how they can get involved. Use giving days like Giving Tuesday to recruit monthly donors.
These are just ideas. You get the picture.
Secure advanced commitments from specific donors
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it was revelatory for me when I first started fundraising. Before you publicly launch any fundraising campaign, ask your board, a few close friends, and a few long-time donors if they will donate during the campaign. Segment your donors so you’re not asking the same people each time. Ask them to give a specific amount. Provide them with language to post on social media about why they give and link to your donation page. This will help give your campaign momentum and inspire others to give spontaneously.
When we decided we wanted to sign up 25 new monthly donors for Giving Tuesday, we recruited ten friends of the organization to commit to donating $10/month or more on that day. When we kicked off the fundraising campaign, those people made their gifts, and we were able to share publicly early in the day that we were “almost halfway there”. This built momentum, and we exceeded our goal.
Side note: When asking your board to give, ask them to recruit two or three new donors too. If they are new to fundraising, a clear and realistic goal will give them direction and confidence.
Make it fun
We found that if we made fundraising fun for us and for our donors, we all got more joy out of the process.
We created several memes and 30-second videos of individuals involved in our programs, donors, and board members talking about the impact of our work. We released them in a coordinated way both in advance and during our fundraising campaigns. We put them on our website, sent them out in email blasts, and put them on social media. The memes and videos made people laugh, informed donors about the impact of their gift, encouraged giving, and shared campaign updates.
Send personal thank yous
Sure, online giving software will send automatic receipts when your donors give. This is not the same as a thank you letter. If there is ever a time to send mailed letters, this is it. Share the impact of their gift. Sign it with a real pen. Write a cute note on the side. If you only have your donor’s email address, write them a personal email to say thank you. It makes a difference.
What strategies have helped you increase individual giving?
Giant Squid Group is excited to share the voice of Naomi Milstein, a kick-ass nonprofit leader with more than 16 years of experience in youth development, nonprofit management, fundraising, training facilitation, restorative justice, and social justice education. Most recently, she was the Executive Director of the Chicago Freedom School, which supports youth-led social change through community organizing. She has been a consultant with small nonprofits, universities and foundations throughout the Midwest. Naomi holds a BA and an MSW from the University of Michigan. Naomi currently lives in Chicago, IL with her husband and young daughter and loves to cook, ride her bike, and travel.
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