Tons of nonprofits experience frustration with getting their boards to fundraise; in fact, it’s the second biggest reasons why executive directors leave their posts, according to CompassPoint’s “Daring to Lead” study. An easy way to give board members a chance to dip their toes in the waters of donor engagement is staging a thank-a-thon. The key is to make it easy for board members to participate, and to help them understand that fundraising is much more than making an ask. By inviting your board members to come together one evening or weekend to call and thank recent donors, they will get exposure interacting with donors and will leave feeling empowered and connected to your organization’s work. This activity will also help improve relationships with your donors, who will be delighted to receive a thank you call without an attached ask.
As much as you might want to believe that grants are awarded simply due to the fit of the program and the excellence of the application, it simply isn’t true. In fact in our experience, the odds of getting a grant that you send in without contacting the foundation are about 5 percent-10 percent. Just as in individual (and all!) fundraising, developing relationships is critical. There are people at these foundations, called program officers, who are directly responsible for deciding who gets money and who doesn’t. They care deeply about the work they are funding, and consider it an advantage to be able to scope out potential grantees. In-person meetings with program officers are ideal, but even a short phone call with a grant manager or administrator can still yield the basic information you need as well as getting your name in the mind of someone at the foundation.
Sometimes these initial conversations can save you valuable time in applying for a grant program that was not a fit—always do your homework on their funding goals ahead of time! But often, they are valuable knowledge-gathering sessions: use the call or meeting to identify the funder’s key priorities and desired language, which many times cannot be found on the organization’s Web site; figure out which of your programs or initiatives is the best fit; and determine how much money you should request. Finally, go out on a limb and ask if they would be willing to preview your Letter of Intent or proposal before you submit it officially. This advance look will give them a sense of ownership over your request and provide you with valuable feedback. Start today by calling the offices of your top foundation prospects and seeing if you can get on a relevant program officer’s schedule.
People give because they are asked—if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. It can be tough to look someone in the eyes and ask for money, but somewhere in your pitch, some variation of the words “I’d like to invite you to invest $100 in our work” need to find their place, ideally followed by as long a pause as it takes to get an answer. For fundraisers, you can’t make the mistake of not asking because you feel greedy or you think they will know what you want. Ask with pride for the cause you are so committed to raising money for, and be honored to be the potential bridge for that donor from need to impact, donation to solution. Be sure to ask for a specific amount (something that’s a stretch, but not unrealistic), and be clear about exactly what you will spend the money on and the impact it will generate. Tell the story of someone you’ve served who enjoyed the impact of these types of donations. Start today by calling a lapsed donor and asking for a small renewal gift, even if it’s $25! Practice this type of direct and specific ask on your board members, coworkers, family, and friends, and in no time you will be a master fundraiser.
People don’t give to you because you have needs; they give to you because you meet needs. Donors and prospects don’t want to hear about the woes of the economy or your organizational struggles—no one wants to join a sinking ship. Instead, they want to know exactly where their donations will go, or have gone, and what impact your work is having on their community and the issues they care about. Use the power of personal stories to demonstrate how critical and important their support is to your work. Emphasize impact and stories in all of your communications with donors, both in person and in your written materials. Make sure that you send timely thank you notes, reports on progress and success, and ongoing communications to build loyalty and trust with your donors. Start by sending a handwritten note to your best donor today!
Online fundraising is a critical component of any individual fundraising strategy. It’s the fastest-growing piece of the development pie, plus when people hear about your organization, want to learn more, or seek updates on your work, they will visit your Web site. It is critical to make sure that visitors can find your donation button within two seconds of clicking on your home page. This means that the button should be sizeable, colorful, prominent, and “above the fold,” meaning it’s visible on the page without the need to scroll down. Play around with different iterations if you can and carefully note the impact on conversation rates and donation amounts—Network for Good performed a test on their Web site and witnessed a 30 percent greater conversion when they changed their donation button from gray to red. Conversion at the last mile is key, so analyze how many people click on the button versus how many actually donate. If the link doesn’t go straight to the donation page, fix it! You should also get creative and use images or different words to relate a donation to something tangible, e.g. “donate a mosquito net” or “save a litter of kittens.”