If you go online to look for fundraising tips for your non-profit, you probably read the same things over and over again. People will tell you to focus on individual giving, to make sue your board is helping you raise money, and not to rely too heavily on events. All of this is good and useful information.
But there’s a lot more to raising money than just the basics you find on most fundraising websites. Those basics are important, but if you want to raise more money, you need to be doing more than every other non-profit in your niche.
In this article, I’m going to give you 7 fundraising tips you’re not going to read on every fundraising blog… these fundraising tips are small tweaks you can make to raise more money by going against the grain. Some are counterintuitive, but all of these tips are based on real-life fundraising data and twenty years of in-the-trenches development experience.
Here they are, in no particular order:
#1: Never Send Just One Solicitation E-Mail
When it comes to online fundraising, one of the best fundraising tips you’ll ever learn is this: never send just one solicitation e-mail. If you’re sending out appeal letters via e-mail, always send them in “flights” of 3-4 e-mails. This means sending your initial e-mail, followed by another e-mail several days later, and then another e-mail or two, each separated by a couple of days.
Each e-mail should include an ask and each should be focused on the same topic / message as the others. Sending out multiple solicitation emails will increase your open rates and your response rates and increase the amount of money you raise by 15% or more.
#2: Put the Highest Donation Amount First in Your Fundraising Letters
Have you ever noticed that most fundraising letters include a line that says something like: “Will you give $25, $50, $100, or whatever you can afford to help us save more lives today?” That’s called an ask string, and you’ll find it in most fundraising letters because it works… it is an effective way to include a “hard ask” in your appeals.
What you may not know, though, is that if you reverse the order of your ask string, you can raise 5%-10% more money from your fundraising letters. Always put the highest donation amount first. This means that instead of the ask string above, your letter should say: “Will you give $100, $50, $20, or whatever you can afford to help us save more lives today?”
Putting the highest donation amount first anchors a higher gift amount in your donors’ minds and leads to a higher average gift size for your letter. If you’re looking for fundraising tips to increase your revenue from fundraising letters, this is one of the best ways to do so.
#3: After You Make an In-Person Ask, Be Quiet!
When making a fundraising ask in-person or over the phone, there’s a tendency for fundraisers to want to talk a lot. In particular, if your donor is quiet after you ask them to make a gift, you’ll probably want to fill the space rather than sit in silence as your donor thinks. Resist this urge!
Great salespeople (and experienced major gifts fundraisers) know that the best thing you can do after making an ask is to be quiet. If your donor is silent after your ask, chances are he or she is thinking about how to say “yes.” People want to say yes… but they often need to think about how to structure the gift, or who else they need to ask (such as a spouse or business partner” etc.), or what account the money will come from.
If you talk to fill the silence, chances are you will talk yourself out of the gift (or talk yourself into a smaller gift). One of the best fundraising tips you will ever hear for in-person asks is this: after you make the ask, be quiet!
#4: Don’t Do Any Fundraising on #GivingTuesday
This is one of those fundraising tips that goes against everything you hear from board members, consultants, and other fundraisers: don’t try to raise money on #GivingTuesday.
I know… every non-profit tries to raise money on #GivingTuesday… and that’s the problem. Unless you’re a massive international organization, you’ll have trouble cutting through the clutter. Why try to raise money on the same day everyone else is? Take the time you would spend raising money that day and hold your own giving day some other time during the year, when you’re not competing with every other organization on Earth.
Many small non-profits spend 30 hours of staff time to raise $40,000 on #GivingTuesday, but if they invested that same amount of time into holding their own giving day in February or April or September, could raise $75,000 or $100,000. Avoid #GivingTuesday, and invest your fundraising resources elsewhere!
#5: Send Lumpy Mail to Get the Meeting
Are you having trouble getting prospects to return your calls and set up meetings with your team? Are you looking for fundraising tips for getting through gatekeepers and getting in to see decisionmakers? If you want to get the meeting, send lumpy mail!
As the name implies, lumpy mail is mail that feels “lumpy” in the envelope. It means sending mail that includes something related to your non-profit that makes people want to open your envelope, just to see what is inside. For example, a zoo or animal shelter could send a letter along with a small stuffed animal… or a children’s museum could send a letter with a small toy inside, etc.
Send an item along with your letter will increase the curiosity of your recipient and make them far more likely to open and read your letter. For even more success, send your lumpy mail by FedEx, which will make your recipient even more likely to open it. Just be careful: sending lumpy mail (especially by FedEx) can get expensive, so only use it for those prospective donors with high capacity and high affinity for your mission.
#6: Never Ask for Money in Your Newsletters
I love donor newsletters. E-mail newsletters are the backbone of most non-profits’ donor cultivation efforts, and snail mail newsletters can be an effective addition to your cultivation arsenal. That being said, here’s another one of those fundraising tips that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. My best advice to you when it comes to your newsletters is: don’t ask for money inside.
Your goal as a fundraiser is to provide lots of cultivation and stewardship to your donors in between each ask. Your newsletters are a great way to provide that cultivation and stewardship. But here’s the thing: if you are asking for money or including donation envelopes inside each newsletter, your donors will see it as a fundraising solicitation, not a cultivation touch.
Newsletters aren’t particularly good fundraising devices. You’ll raise far more money from a well-written solicitation letter than from a newsletter that includes an ask at the end. Let your cultivation mailings be pure cultivation and let your solicitation letters be pure solicitation. Resist the urge to try to raise money inside your newsletters, and instead use them to set the stage for true asks later on down the line.
#7: Stop Writing Grants
There are some fundraising tips that are so outside the norm that they’ll make your Executive Director or board chair do a double take when you mention them. This is one of those tips: stop writing grants for your non-profit.
Of course, if your non-profit has long-standing grants that you get each year, you should continue writing those grants. But most non-profits spend way too much time on grant writing and get far too little in return. Remember, almost 70% of all the money available to your non-profit is available from individual donors, not foundations and other grantmakers. So, 70% or more of your fundraising time should be focused on finding and engaging with major donors, not foundations.
If your non-profit spends 10 hours per week writing grants, chances are that if you stop writing grants and put those 10 hours per week into cultivating and asking individual donors for gifts, you’ll raise far more money. The only organizations that should be investing heavily in grantwriting are those non-profits that are already doing everything they can to raise money from individual donors. Go where the money is. For non-profits, that means to focus on individual givers!
Why These Fundraising Tips Work
If you want to raise more money for your organization, try these 7 fundraising tips this year. They really work… despite the fact that many of them are counterintuitive. Some of these fundraising tips may even cause some pushback from the rest of your team (for example, when you tell your board you’re not going to run a fundraising campaign on #GivingTuesday).
The reason these fundraising tips work is because they are based on real world data and expertise, not on common fundraising wisdom. Much of the generic advice that circulates in the fundraising world is based on hearsay and common misconceptions, not on what’s actually working in the real world for non-profits like yours. Use these fundraising tips to raise more money and avoid the temptation to simply do what every other organization is doing with their fund development program.