Of all my blog posts last year, the most popular were the four posts in my “Fundraising Trends and Tips for 2019 from the Experts” series. That’s no surprise, since the insights they featured were straight from leading fundraising experts across the country.
Among fundraising pros, there’s no clear consensus on a single, central strategy that will bring in more donors, increase their giving, and keep them coming back. Still, there are a variety of essential, time-tested practices that are worth their weight in contributions. In this post, I’ve taken the liberty of organizing their insights into seven big ideas that can help your organization.
1. Take care of your current donors. Tom Ahern, author of several books and a 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 adds, “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.”
2. Learn from your donors. Steven Shattuck, of Bloomerang, believes the most important fundraising trend or strategy for 2019 is donor surveys. Steven says, “There is a mountain of research that shows donors actually like it when you solicit feedback from them. You also get the added benefit of learning something from the donor that you can use in future communications efforts. For example, ask why first-time donors gave, or what their connection to the cause is. Or ask repeat donors if they think you're thanking them properly. Or ask lapsed donors if you did something wrong. I think the sector suffers from a lack of curiosity about the people who fund their missions. The information gleaned can be so powerful!”
3. Listen to the experts. Simone Joyaux, of Joyaux Associates, has worked 40 years in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, including over 30 years as a fundraising consultant. Simone sees a passion for the cause and genuine caring among the staff members and volunteers. But she also still sees the same problems now that she saw years ago. She recommends that leaders hire highly skilled fundraisers, then listen to and follow their advice. “I still see individuals and their organizations looking for the silver bullet, the quick and easy change,” she says. “Social media isn’t the answer to all your worries, and Millennials alone aren’t going to save your organizations.”
4. Devote time and energy to major gifts. Claire Axelrad, of Clairification, believes nonprofits should invest more in major individual fundraising. She says, “Eighty percent of all giving comes from individuals. And major gifts are by far the most cost-effective form of fundraising. Organizations of all sizes can do this! Take a course, read a book, or just do some online research if you don’t know where to begin. It’s not rocket science. Raising $1 million from a handful of major donor-investors (who you’ll be able to steward and keep loyal over time) is simply easier — and more sensible — than trying to raise $1 from a million supporters.”
5. Practice donor-centricity. To improve results, focus on what your donors want to accomplish instead of touting your own achievements. To quote Tom Ahern again, “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. 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.”
6. 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.”
7. Do all you can to nurture monthly giving. Claire Axelrad says, “The technology revolution has changed the way people communicate and conduct financial transactions. So how about using technology to nurture monthly giving? Monthly donors renew at a rate of 90%, vs. 46% for all donors, so it almost seems fundraising malpractice not to have a robust monthly giving program! Just be sure to also build a “Donor Love & Loyalty” plan so you connect regularly with these recurring donors. The foundation of all sustainable fundraising is a value-for-value exchange.”
Tim Kachuriak, president of NextAfter, observes, “As response rates continue to decline, and costs to acquire new donors are on the rise, the value of securing donors that give on a regular, automated basis cannot be matched. However, as we found in our 2018 Nonprofit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study, most organizations still have far to go to make their recurring program the foundation of their annual fund.”
These fundraising experts’ trends and tips are not complicated. They do, however, take persistence and dedication to put into action. So dig out your fundraising plan, or if you don’t have one, develop one and put it in writing. And most importantly — stick to the plan. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”