This week, we celebrated 5 years in business at Do Good Better Consulting! And besides taking a bit of time to pick up cupcakes & arranging some invites to our clients and colleagues this week, we’ve been spending some really great moments reflecting back on our half decade long journey to help nonprofits raise money for their awesome missions.
From helping strategize donor plans, editing written appeals, curating unique fundraising events, and mostly being an amateur therapist for nonprofit leaders, we’ve had a front row seat to see the good, bad, ugly and inspirational of hundreds of organizations.
And there’s some patterns we’ve found to what makes an amazing fundraising nonprofit.
Surprisingly, the bigger the team, or bigger the marketing budget, doesn’t necessarily equate to raising more funds, and especially doesn’t equate to great culture or missions. In fact, some of the most complicated fixes have been with institutions that can’t even tweak their plans without seemingly moving heaven and earth to do it.
But, what’s not surprising is that the best fundraising nonprofits are clear about what they do, can communicate that mission and impact, and they accomplish aggressive goals with a highly supported team that says “yes” to help but “no” to being inconsistent.
So, after reflecting on 5 years in business, and the nearly 20 years I’ve been running in fundraising circles professionally, here is a list of the 5 Things the BEST Nonprofits Do to Raise Money:
1. Keep it Simple
If my 8 year old can understand things, then I’ve explained it correctly. Unfortunately, like me on a fairly regular basis, nonprofits have a very difficult time explaining what they do and the impact they make simply.
And I think I know why.
We get really excited about all the things we do for the community and groups we serve. Like, really excited. And the more excited we get, the more things we add to help explain about how fantastic our mission is. And adding more things, makes simplicity…well, not happen.
The best nonprofits have a clear and concise message of what they do, who they serve and what impact they make.
Sure, they may have fancy graphics or statistics that buttress the ideas they are chatting about, but they don’t add things to sound bigger or better than what they are or what they do.
Donors, like most of us nowadays have the attention spans of gnats, and a long and winding explanation of your organization does nothing to capture the attention or care of someone who may align perfectly with you.
We’ve been a fan recently of the phrase “clear over clever.” And that is a great mental note to have when creating your elevator pitch, appeals, or mission moments at events.
And if you need someone to test that simple pitch, find an 8-year old in the neighborhood and see if they agree.
2. Tell Great Stories
The best fundraising nonprofits tell the best stories.
And no, those fantastic storytelling nonprofits don’t necessarily have programs and services that help cute kids and furry animals…you know…the white whale of content for absolutely adorable inspired giving.
Your ability to regale an audience or individual with a moving story about those you serve or what you do in the community is probably the most important arrow in your fundraising quiver. And besides having access to learn from those directly impacted by your services to remind yourself about why you do what you do, donors love to visualize where their gifts have gone and what impact is has directly made.
It is incredibly effective to enthusiastically speak about the successes of your mission. Individuals who align with the values of your mission are always seeking out ways to engage, support or cheerlead. And a well crafted story about what you do may spark a need inside of them to give generously.
However, there is also value in being open about the challenges you have and how those in the community can help your organization overcome them. The idea that they, a potential donor, with the swipe of a credit card or signature on a check, can be a major player in reducing neighborhood hunger, or making the life of an individual with disabilities easier, is a wonderful theme to speak and write about.
Stories that make the donor as a hero.
Stories that make the support of an organization as the path to directly making an impact.
Stories that clarify the simplicity of how to give.
Practice your storytelling in front of as many individuals as you can. Invite feedback and perspectives to hone in on what is emotionally grabbing to the widest audiences. And craft individual stories for around what you know about potential donors to personalize their own visualization on how they can help.
Oh, and read a lot of nerdy high fantasy novels. If you want to learn how to story tell and world build – those super dorky books about magic and dragons are the perfect place to start.
3. Invite Instead of Ask
In the nearly 2 decades of working in the world of fundraising I’ve probably only asked for a specific amount of money a dozen times.
The rest? The donor picks the amount or has an idea already of what level they would like to support a project at.
The reason is simple: Most people don’t like high pressure sales, and people want to have a sense of control in what they want to fund.
Giving is personal.
So the best fundraising nonprofits set up their solicitation by clearly stating the need, being honest and authentic when discussion the impact of the community if that goal is reached, and following up with a clear invitation to join countless other individuals in helping cross the funding finish line.
Donors like the idea of being a part of a winning team, and being a part of a collective group of do-gooders who make these big hairy audacious goals come true. They want to feel as if they played a major role is the success.
“Would you be interested in helping us achieve that goal?” is a fantastic way to engage your supporters and not have that pyramid-scheme like feeling in the pit of your stomach when asking for money.
Oh, and it’s way more effective too.
4. Collaborate & Partner
Mission creep is something that great fundraising nonprofits work hard and consistently to avoid.
But as do gooders, we have a way of saying yes or wanting to do more for others constantly.
So how do we quench our thirst for expanding the things or organization does to make more impact even if it doesn’t match perfectly with our mission? Find partners in other groups who are better equipped with time and resources.
It can be a hard pill to swallow acknowledging that you don’t have the capacity to do more, but your donors will thank you for not using their gifts for things outside your scope of work, and those you serve will thank you for continuing to be the focus of your efforts.
But partnerships with individuals who may sit on the periphery of what programs you have created allows you to associate with additional impact makers and align with businesses and organizations who share the same values, while still staying true to your mission.
This also gets your enthusiastic self in front of more people to hear your message and more about what your nonprofit does, without creating anything new – which we all know you don’t have time for.
5. Invest in Your Team
There is no more clear predictor of a successful fundraising nonprofit than how many resources are given for personal development of the team that is in charge of asking for all the money.
Besides salaries, the insistence that fundraisers look for events, trainings, and perspectives outside of their own committees or offices, helps keep ideas fresh, updated on trends regionally and nationally, and creates a network of really smart humans they can rely on with questions to complicated questions that come up when talking to donors or businesses.
Instead of Google searching for processes to help make fundraising more simple, well invested teams have connections to countless individuals who can give quick and clear directions that saves time and resources, and puts them in a position to build more relationships in a quicker time than organizations who do not.
As Board members look to where they can help guide the nonprofits they lead, allocating funding for joining networking groups, chambers of commerce, and attending trainings is an easy win-win for the organization. Your fundraising team becomes more competent and feel more supported, which leads to less turnover and chaos.
As an executive director looking to increase the skill set of your fundraising team, allocating time away from the office to learn new tips, tricks and best practices makes your organization more prepared for the ever changing world of philanthropy, and that support will reflect in the more productive field activity of your development squad.
5 years in business isn’t monumental in the entirety of space and time. But it sure has produced a lot of great moments of clarity on what works, what doesn’t, and what some of the best practices are from a ton of fantastic perspectives.
For more information, resources and ways you can get all the fundraising help you can handle, get on the waiting list to join Do Good YOUniversity by CLICKING HERE! We open the doors in just a few weeks!