Posts tagged Fundraising

Put Individual Donors First This Fiscal Year

You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating:  83 percent of all non-governmental dollars raised in the nonprofit sector come from individuals.  Foundations and corporations do not provide the majority of support for the work of the social sector, individual donors do.

Each year, the Giving USA Foundation publishes it’s excellent analysis of charitable giving to nonprofits by corporations, foundations, individuals and estates.  For years now, the percent of dollars raised from individuals plus the percent of dollars raised from estates (which were, of course, accumulated by individuals) has hovered between 82 and 83 percent.

Here are the figures for 2009 :

Source: Giving USA 2010

In spite of these numbers, many nonprofits continue to generate 60 to 90 percent of their revenue from government, foundation and corporate support.  This is especially true of small and mid-size nonprofits, defined here as organizations with budgets of less than $10 million.

The current economic crisis has resulted in deep cuts in government funding.  Giving USA 2010  reports that foundation grantmaking fell by 8.9% in 2010.  Corporate giving rose by 5.5% while individual giving remained flat.

Nonetheless, many of my nonprofit clients continue to focus the majority of their fundraising time and budget on securing foundation and government support.

With a new fiscal year starting, I have a modest proposal.  Let’s focus most of our fundraising attention on increasing and sustaining our individual donor bases.  Don’t give up your efforts to pursue government and foundation funding, but move individual donor work to the front burner. 

The research continues to “show us the money.”  Nonprofits that want to sustain their work and survive the economic downturn need to pay attention to this research and craft revenue plans that prioritize developing strong individual donor systems and strategies.  Make sure your fundraising plans include strategies for each of the stages of individual donor development:

Whatever you do, don’t skip the first and critical step: planning.  Nonprofits with limited development staff often put individual donor work last because this work seems to come with few externally imposed deadlines and requirements.   There are no  proposal or reporting deadlines.  But there are deadlines that need to be set internally:

  • When will you send a direct mail piece? 
  • When will you send an e-mail solicitation? 
  • When will you write each of these pieces? 
  • When will you send donors an update of the impact their contributions are making? 

If you put each of these deadlines on your work-plan, you will begin to see the need to plan time for individual donor work instead of rushing to write that solicitation at the eleventh hour.

In drafting your annual work-plan, put aside staff  time regularly — once a week, twice a month — to gather names of prospective donors and conduct research into the giving habits and interest of existing donors. 

Schedule time to plan for your next moves with different segments of your donor base.  For example, how will you keep in contact with new supporters who attended an event?  When will you ask them for a gift beyond the price of attending the event?  If you have a group of donors who have been giving larger gifts via your direct mail campaign(s), research their potential for major giving and create strategies to cultivate and then ask them for a major gift.

See this earlier post  for more about development planning.

And come back and visit over the next few weeks as I’ll be posting pieces regarding research, cultivation, and stewardship of individual donors and a piece on staffing your individual donor program.

Does your nonprofit put individual donors first?  Please share how you do below.

5 Tips for Raising More Money from Foundations


With the economic downturn, raising money from foundations has gotten even more difficult and nonprofits need every competitive advantage to succeed. 

So, what is the key to successful foundation fundraising?  The same element that is central to all winning fundraising:  building effective relationships with your donors.

Here is a list of 5 tips for building effective relationships with grantmakers:

1)      Program Officers are people tooYou may think Program Officers are merely gatekeepers deciding whether your proposal ever sees the light of day beyond their desk.  It seems obvious, but still bears saying.  Program Officers are people, and like any group of people, some will be helpful, others unapproachable.

Some other elements of the grantmakers’ perspective to consider:

  • They have their own set of internal stakeholders to whom they are responsible.
  •  They have only so much leeway in stretching foundation guidelines & requirements.
  •   They may feel like they are constantly being pitched and are only liked because they have access to money.
  •  They are routinely swamped with e-mails, voice mails,  piles of reading and many meetings.




2)   Seek mission compatabilityWhen approaching individual donors you target those who will find your nonprofit’s work most compelling.  The same strategy should be applied to your foundation prospects.  Do not simply chase money because it is being granted.  Plan your foundation strategy and target those grantmakers whose funding priorities match best with your programs and services.

Partners in Effective Philanthropy

3)   Plan your foundation fund raising Create a Foundation Funding Calendar and submit proposals based on when funding is awarded and when you need it for your program.  If a proposal is funded, add its reporting deadlines to your foundation calendar.  Regularly set aside time ( several hours each week or every other week)  to research and add new foundation prospects.  For more about fundraising planning, see this earlier post.

4)   Write a strong proposal:

  • Follow Directions.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Write clearly & simply. 
  • Be specific, but brief.
  • Do not use jargon.
  • Include all information requested by the funder.
  • Proofread.  No spelling/grammar errors.
  • Format it so it is easy to read. Break up text with headings and bullets.  Use short paragraphs.
  • Remember, you are telling the “story” of your nonprofit.  Show why your work matters and clearly demonstrate the need for your organization.
  • Submit a budget that makes sense and is mathematically correct.
  • Present a clear program plan that is realistic and appropriate for the issue being addressed.

5)   Work to build long term relationships with grantmakersUse the same practices of stewardship that you use with your individual donors:

  • Give grantmakers the recognition they prefer.  Some want to be anonymous, some want to be mentioned in publicity. 
  • When a grant is awarded, call or e-mail the funder to say “thank you” and then immediately follow-up with a formal, written thank you letter. 
  • Make sure to file needed grant paperwork and reports on time.   
  • Keep funders informed about the progress of the project.
  • Work to cultivate receptive grantmakers as advocates of your nonprofit’s work.
  • “No” may just be the first step to “yes.”  If a proposal is rejected, speak with the Program Officer and ask if you should re-submit the next time.  Sometimes it takes two or three attempts before securing funds.

For a list of resources related to grantmaking, see Partners in Effective Philantropy.

What other tips would you share with nonprofit grantseekers?

The Secret to Social Media Fundraising?


Photo courtesy


I admit it.  The headline for this post is a tease used to get your attention.

The secret to raising money through social networking is that there is, of course, no secret.

Like offline fundraising, successful social media fundraising requires relationship – building, the development of a community of supporters.  Fundraising is hard work.  It is incredibly rewarding work, but work nonetheless. 

Attracted by what appear to be the lower costs and ease of access to new supporters offered by social media, many nonprofit fundraisers are looking to online fundraising to solve all their fundraising challenges.  But just as offline fundraising takes hard work, so does development success online.


Those nonprofits that are succeeding at social media fundraising know that all good fundraising is rooted in building strong relationships with your donors.  First, you need to get to know potential supporters and get them excited about your nonprofit’s work.  The most successful fundraisers will tell you that “there’s no kissing on the first date.”  Build a connection with a prospect first.   Ask for money only after you have properly introduced a potential supporter to your organization.

Allison Fine makes this point in her recent post “Social Media Fundraising Lessons”  , noting that “organizations that are focused on friends first, funds second are doing better with social media.”

When you are tweeting or posting to Facebook, don’t ask fans and followers to give to you or ask others to give if you haven’t first tried to build a connection with them around your mission.  People are following your organization because they care about the issue or cause you are addressing.  Use social media to share information about your nonprofit’s work.  Engage with your followers and fans, ask for their opinions, cater to their shared interest in your mission, and then ask them to spread the word. 


 In a recent post at Community Organizer 2.0 , Debra Askanase argues that social media fundraising “comes down to a combination of social media basics plus community organizing principles.”  

Community organizing generally involves some form of power analysis.  Organizers determine who in the community has the power to implement (or block) a community’s agenda.  Debra points to power analysis as a key community organizing principle to apply to online fundraising.

For success in online fundraising, a nonprofit needs to analyze the power and influence of its fans/followers.  The  2009 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study conducted by M&R Strategic Services and NTEN, found that the the top 7 percent of online action takers accounted for a full 31 percent of all online actions taken, and 39 percent of the activists were responsible for 71 percent of all actions. 

Those nonprofits that understand which of their followers are super-activists, which are inactive and which fall somewhere in between will be able to craft outreach strategies designed to work best with each group of fans.  The 2009 eNonprofits Benchmark study notes that “successful programs work to ensure that super-activists continue to be satisfied, while simultaneously cultivating less active subscribers to increase their activism.”


Finally, successful social media fundraising requires good planning.  I wrote about the importance of fundraising planning in general hereDon’t just set up shop on a social media channel and start posting content and asking for support.  First, think about the following planning questions:

What is your goal for using social media to fundraise?

Which online channels do the organization’s target audiences use most regularly?

What is your timeframe for the online campaign?  Never-ending fundraising may exhaust and chase away online supporters. 

What content  do you plan to share?  Can your supporters easily share your content with their followers? Do you make a clear and compelling case that giving to your organization will connect donors to the impact they hope to have on a cause important to them?

 Online fundraising may ultimately save time and money compared with some offline fundraising, but that does not mean that it requires no work.  No matter where it takes place — online or off — fundraising is hard work.