The Essentials – Part One of a Four Part Series

If you could look into the fundraising crystal ball for 2019, what would you discover? I asked several experts in the nonprofit fundraising field and collected a goldmine of wisdom to share with you. Response was so overwhelming that I organized the content into four parts: The Essentials, Breaking Old Habits, Look on the Inside, and Making It Personal.

Among fundraising pros, there seems to be an overall consensus that while there may not be one big mother lode that will bring in more donors, increase their giving, and keep them coming back, there are certainly some essential, time-tested practices that need to be polished up in the coming year. Here they are.

  • Take care of the donors you already have. Tom Ahern, author of several books and copywriting guru for fundraising and communications, has deep reverence for donor retention. Tom says, “Retention is mostly business common sense: keeping customers (donors) is far cheaper than acquiring new customers (donors). The miserable retention stats tolerated in the US nonprofit industry — of every ten first-time donors, eight do NOT make a second gift — would be considered a firing offense in the commercial world.”

    Lauren Brownstein of Pitch Consulting says, “So many organizations are focused on acquiring new donors — where can we find them? who are they? should we purchase lists? etc. But we know one thing for certain. It’s more cost effective to keep the donor you already have than to win a new one. Whether it's a donor who gave last year, or a donor who hasn't given in a couple of years, take care of the friends your organization already has made. Write them a handwritten note, send an email, or (gasp!) pick up the phone and call them. Send them a newsletter, an update, or a fun photo from a recent event. Congratulate them on a milestone or family event. Invite them to one of your events. Find a way to connect—not to ask (right away), but to connect.” 
  • Practice donor-centricity. Focusing on what your donors want to accomplish instead of touting your own achievements is, and will continue to be, the way to improve results. According to Tom Ahern, “Donor-centricity is a 30-year effort by researchers and top agencies to reverse the way charities talk to and treat their donors. It has one goal: raise more money (i.e., grow the mission). Recent research by Dr. Adrian Sargeant found that asking a few simple questions about a donor's commitment to the mission increased giving 200%.”

    Brian Sooy, author of Raise your Voice, says, “With all of the interest in storytelling, the point most often overlooked in communications is that the focus of the story should not be on the organization or the cause, but on the audience and who they are. When you invite people into an account that makes the donor the hero, you communicate that you understand their interests. At every opportunity, focus on how people can participate in making a difference, achieve their goals for generosity, and engage in meaningful impact in partnership with your cause or charity. It’s important to remember this distinction: the donor’s role is as a sustainer of and partner in the work of a charity, but their identity relates to who they want to be.” 
  • Appeal to shared values. Vanessa Chase of The Storytelling Nonprofit believes we're going to see more communications and fundraising materials steeped in values. “As more social and political movements emerge, values are becoming an increasingly important decision-making lens for people,” she says. “My hunch is that non-profits who are able to find their angle to stand out and build an audience are the ones who will clearly communicate values and connect with people on a deep level.” 

Sometimes you may feel like this journey is too difficult. Or too long. Or even impossible. Remember these words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Next up, Part Two: Breaking Old Habits

-  -  -

I discovered something special in writing this series of articles. There is a wonderful kindred spirit alive and well within the fundraising and marketing community. We are blessed to be a part of a world where even competitors can collaborate and do good for the sake of doing good. My heartfelt thanks to Tom AhernClaire AxelradLuAnne BellAnne BoyleLauren BrownsteinVanessa ChaseAmy EisensteinEva JannottaSimone JoyauxTim KachuriakAndrea KihlstedtLaura PasternakBrian SooySteven Shattuck and Greg Warner.