September 21, 2020

7 Drivers of Nonprofit Fundraising Success

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. To be successful with your fundraising planning you need to be aware of these drivers and include them in your plans.

Drivers that Bring Donors and Donations to You

1. The Gather People Driver

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.

2. The Engagement Process Driver

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.

3. The Value-Based Gifts Driver

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 Crisis Fundraising for more about offering donors invitations.

4. The Share Results Driver 

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.

Drivers that Cause Donors To Linger

5. The Help them Make Friends Driver

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 to Use Opportunities to Make Friends Driver

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:

  • Use Zoom breakout rooms.
  • Invite your board members, as modeled by my client, the St. Pete Arts Alliance, to share a (brief) Bright Spot before you start your business
  • Include a check-in time during your smaller meetings. Right now, telling a Zoom-disaster experience is therapeutic.
  • Invite two donors who don’t’ know each other but share commonalities to watch a mission-related educational video with you.

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?

For more about this driver, read: The Key to Abundant Nonprofit Income: The Sweet Spot Where Mission and Community Meet.

6. The Not-About-Money Driver

Here’s a common nonprofit mistake that actually drives donors away: post-donation “tricks.” Tricks are invitations that are camouflaged contribution requests. For one example, read Does Your Nonprofit Make Dirty Asks?

The Not-About-Money Driver, in contrast, is not a trick. It’s a straightforward offer of value. You invite your donors because they’re your donors. You build this driver over time by presenting donors with mission-related activities to inform, inspire, and enhance their lives. Because everyone who contributes is different, this variety allows supporters to pick their favorite way to interact.

Non-monetary opportunities are a tool that belongs front and center in your donor stewardship toolkit. To be powerful, this kit must include more than thank you notes and recognition. You need tools to transform everyday donors into educated, committed, and thoughtful donors, aka partners.

So you’re thinking, how exactly do these non-donation opportunities drive fundraising results?

Here’s how. People want to know if their gifts were received, to know that their opinions count, and that their gifts mattered. When they accept your post-donation invitations, you show them they and their gift matter, and often, how the gift helped, plus you establish listening opportunities.

Over time, their participation presents you numerous opportunities to learn about their interests and then match gift opportunities to these inclinations. Your insights maximize the number of contributions you receive.

This driver generates active, engaged, and informed donors who “get” your work and needs. When done well, it primes the pump for future contributions. When done very well, it generates donations that donors volunteer because they “get” the need.

In Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together, I share an example of not-about-money activities from the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. At the Center near the end of their pledges, major donors are treated to a catered no-ask lunch with the executive director and board chair—a straight-forward offer of value. The payoff? High renewal rates, loyalty, and an increased likelihood of the donor becoming a Kravis goodwill.

If you panicked at the thought of adding an event to your calendar, read on.

You might offer luncheons or new events as part of this driver, but that might be silly with your schedule. You’ll be delighted to learn that you probably already offer or can quickly provide opportunities that inform, inspire, and uplift donors. For example, in an email, you read a new research article with results that support the approach you use. You send a paragraph about recent research, a link, and why you found the research significant in your regular donor CEO update. When you set up a call with the researchers as part of your professional education, you invite interested donors to join you.

The key to making this driver work? Make not-about-money donor engagements a regular activity.

How are you engaging your current donors in no-ask opportunities? How will you make this driver one of your organization’s habits?

For more read, 14 Ways to Form Donor Relationships in 10 Minutes or Less.

7. The Engender Trust Driver

You may think that donors don’t notice, care, or see details of your internal operations.

They do.

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.

Donors want to know if you are trustworthy.

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!)

Trust is also about your climate.

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.

A Quick Technique to Engender Trust 

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:

    • Is the goal still relevant? Yes or no?
    • How did we meet the goal in the last seven days? List successes note shortcomings.
    • How will we move forward on this goal next week? List your tasks.

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.

How Did You Do?

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.

The 7 Drivers of Nonprofit Fundraising Success Quiz 

  1. Attracting people with an interest in your cause and the means to fund it
  2. An engagement process that provides newcomers value
  3. Invitations to Give that provide donors value and wins for your nonprofit.
  4. Results Sharing: Opportunities to know how their contributions changed lives
  5. Opportunities to meet like-minded people with common interests
  6. Non-Monetary Opportunities to Engage
  7. Engender Donor Trust

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 this year.

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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