Fundraising success is an art and a science. Fortunately, when you get the science right, you create lots of room to grow skillful at the art and maximize your fundraising potential.
Below, you’ll read about the seven drivers of fundraising success. A driver, part of the science of fundraising, is a habitual activity that creates a climate that encourages donor involvement. In many ways, drivers are like highway systems. They speed donors and supporters to you around barriers, congestion, and distractions. Once these special people arrive, the drivers offer an attractive destination that invites lingering.
Attracting People, especially those with an interest in your cause and the means to fund it.
Drive your fundraising success by developing a steady stream of new people learning about your work. No matter your current supporters’ loyalty and dedication, donors move, drift away, and die over time. To stay even, expand your supporter and prospect list by at least 10 percent yearly. If your goal is to grow your contributions, you need even more newcomers.
How much did your contact list grow last year? What activities gathered new people? Does this driver need to be built, replaced, or refurbished? To learn more about attracting people and keeping them involved, read: Nonprofits, Don’t Just Find Donors, Grow Your Own.
Does your engagement process focus on providing newcomers value?
Once you catch their attention, you will want people to form a web of connections with your nonprofit. This driver is an institution-wide engagement process that begins with a hello and ends years from now, with a bequest. From the donor’s point of view, this driver offers them valuable opportunities to get involved and not just “drive-by” your nonprofit.
For example, getting newcomers to attend an event is step one of your engagement process. When a newcomer makes an in-kind gift, you send a personal thank-you note with a brochure. Via email, a staff member invites the individual to an Open House. A volunteer leaves a voicemail reminding them of the event. When the newcomer attends, you begin the next step of your process. With additional guidance, the newcomer becomes a board member and later leaves a bequest.
How do you transform strangers into donors who eventually leave bequests? Where are there gaps in your engagement process? How successful are you at each step? For more, read Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together. It explores the process of creating a culture of philanthropy in-depth and how to get help doing it.
Make invitations to give based on providing the donor value and wins for your nonprofit.
This driver recognizes that on the surface, people want to be left alone. Underneath, as you already discovered, donors seek to make a difference. It’s a bit like going out for a regular run, walk, or bike ride. For the first bit, your body complains, “I don’t want to do this.” After a while, that voice quiets, and you find satisfaction in moving.
Similarly, donors don’t want to be asked for money. Yet, they want to change lives, give back, help someone in need, and make the world a better place. Measure this driver by evaluating the number and the focus of opportunities offered to donors and prospects.
Many nonprofit leaders worry about donor burnout. (Adding more donors is the first cure, see Driver #1.) The remedy is also switching your perspective and refining what you offer to “your regulars.” If they don’t know about the kinds of value your offer, you’re not sharing enough. You might even be remiss for not offering the value you provide.
How often does your organization ask for gifts? When you offer opportunities, do you focus on providing donors value? Read Pandemic Fundraising: Why You Should Ask Donors for Contributions Despite COVID-19 for more about offering donors invitations.
Results sharing are donor opportunities to know how contributions changed lives.
The fourth fundraising driver is the opportunity for donors to know the results of their philanthropy—activities around this driver mix gratitude and recognition with proof. Proof can include testimonials in your newsletter, statistical evidence, photos, and video outcomes.
Sharing what happened with donations serves multiple purposes, including:
Affirms donors (even if they remain anonymous)
Clarifies what otherwise might not be obvious: donations magnify other financial contributions—since they buy the extras that make the difference.
Motivates prospective donors and
When combined with marketing and publicity, it attracts donors.
How does your organization share the results with donors? Do you prioritize offering donors opportunities to see their philanthropy in action? Do you consistently reserve your biggest public thanks to the donors who invested when the results were a dream?
If you gave this an automatic yes, slow down. Stories about donors who feel they unthanked abound. Foundations moan about grantees not filling timely final reports. Stewardship for too many organizations is an afterthought. One client, before our work, only rewarded development staff for new donations. For more about the need to do more than good work, watch Myth #3 in Three Nonprofit Money Myths That Sink Organizations.
These four drivers bring donors to you. The next set explores stewardship habitats that keep your donors engaged once they arrive at your door.
Inter-donor relationships are your fifth driver. Relationships between donors bind people to your nonprofit and encourage them to remain. This driver increases donations. Donor friendships introduce peer pressure and friendly competition. Both increase gifts.
One Habitat affiliate in a community with many gated-communities benefited from a “beat the other neighborhoods Habitat fundraising campaigns.” Two donors who lived in different neighborhoods organized and drove these competitions.
Ideal donors are people who love your cause and the people you attract because the inter-donor driver reduces your labor. For example, friends call friends to make sure they bought tickets for your event. The inviting donors can’t wait to tell you their friends (and your prospects!) will attend your event.
How else do donor connections drive fundraising results? Quality friendships provide donor’s additional value. They reduce donor churn by creating multiple contacts. So, when your beloved development director departs, donors remain because of their relationships with others.
How are you encouraging donors, volunteers, and newcomers to meet and get to know others? The good news is that some of this happens naturally by putting people in the same real or virtual room. If you’re meeting virtually, even from a distance, you can still use it. You can:
These are my top-of-the-mind ideas. What have you done? How will you be more intentional about encouraging donor friendships? How will you make this a habit so that your donor’s connections flourish?
You may think that donors don’t notice, care, or see details of your internal operations.
Anyone who’s ever been in a broken organization or relationship seeks to avoid more of them. This is especially true when the engagement is voluntary.
Therefore, before diving in, most donors check you out. The watch to see how you operate with each other, and especially how you treat donors.
This is the final driver of fundraising success. Engendering trust is a way of being. It’s not a tactic like the other drivers you can do, measure, and check-off your to-do list.
Donors and prospective donors, especially those who give major gifts, seek proof that you’re trustworthy in the minutia of your daily operations and big decisions. You build trust with small acts that become habits and the way you operate your organization. When they trust you, donors consider investing more resources. Their gifts are expressions of confidence in your ability to lead them toward a better tomorrow in a healthy way.
For example, consider your words. Do they engender trust?
Can your donors count on you to hold a meeting or call them as promised? If no, donors may take major gifts off the table. If yes, you are a step closer to having them count on you to maximize the value of a $50,000 or mega-dollar donation.
How does following up on your follow-up promise to follow-up look behind the scenes? When you or any of the staff members make a promise, you back it up with a process to make sure it gets done. For instance, you agree to talk in a month. You schedule a follow-up time in your planner 30 days out.
Keeping your word is only one variety of trust. For another, consider how you handle money. Do your donors see everyone respecting donor’s money like it was coming from their personal checkbook? For example, a board member is considering making the top gift to your capital campaign. In a committee meeting, he hears a pitch to move a bequest to pay off the organization’s debt into the campaign. When the staff member fails to remind the group that the pledge is for debt, the board member leaves the meeting, pondering a bottom range gift. (Breaking trust can be expensive!)
Is it a pleasure, no matter how difficult the circumstances or grim your mission, to be with you?
Although many try, in the long-term, you can’t fake pleasantness. Plastic cheerfulness may fool donors initially. Once they catch on, most depart. The few who remain give token gifts—far below their potential.
This driver includes what happens when trust is broken. That is when you fail to live up to your values. Everyone does at times.
Do messes get buried in your shop? Or, do you apologize, adjust your system, and try again? Continuing with our capital campaign meeting, when the staff member reports the conversation about moving the debt-reducing bequest to the capital campaign, the CEO acts. He attends the next committee meeting to clarify the organization’s commitment to the donor’s wishes. The board member decides he will make the top gift to the campaign, after all.
What are The Keys Ways to Make the Engender Trust Driver Work?
You’re not going to like the first answer.
Do you know all of those sessions that nonprofit capacity-building organizations and the Association of Fundraising Professionals offer on ethics? Attend them. They will give you practice in seeing and manipulating ethical dilemmas before issues like them arise in your organization.
Attendance is dismal at these sessions cause we all believe we are ethical! Engendering trust requires more than transparency. You need skills to lead your board and those around you to make the right decision when that choice is unpopular. Attending these meetings help you see places where organization get tripped up and rehearse workarounds.
The second answer on how to engender trust? Invest in building your organization’s trustworthiness.
Grab a composition book. Write the goal: Build Staff and Leadership that Engenders trust on the cover. Once per week, for five minutes, consider the intent and answer these three questions in the book:
Continue weekly until the goal is no longer relevant.
This fail-proof tactic tunes you into trust levels, plus it keeps you accountable and moving forward on driving donor’s success.
For more read, Three Ways to Improve Trust in Your Nonprofit Organization.
This concludes The 7 Drivers of Nonprofit Fundraising Success. Before you go, take a moment and rank your organization on all seven drivers. Use 1=weak to 10=strong.
Don’t be discouraged if you need to work on a number of them. Establishing fundraising drivers is a not-a-done-in-a-day task. It’s just the most effective way of raising more contributions year after year.
Start small. Block one hour on your calendar to strengthen one driver in the next seven days. Open your calendar now and book the time. Let me know how it goes.
If you’d like to know more about setting up the seven fundraising success drivers in your nonprofit, please don’t hesitate to set up a time to talk. I’d love to help you get these drivers delivering money into your budget before the end of the year.