When it comes to fundraising, many non-profits have a culture problem. The problem is that they’re focused on being nice, not rocking the boat, and treading lightly whenever they deal with donors.
As a fundraising consultant, I see this every day. I see organizations that worry about sending out e-mail newsletters because they might get unsubscribes… and development directors that are worried about making direct asks because they “don’t sound polite.” Likewise, so many board members spend their time handwringing because the staff wants to send out a three-page fundraising letter instead of a one-page solicitation.
Your non-profit’s mission matters. Because your mission matters, your fundraising matters. If you want to raise more money, you need to be aggressive. That word can seem shocking to non-profit folks. Being aggressive seems so… rough! Not necessarily.
Being aggressive doesn’t mean being hard on your donors. It means setting a goal and working hard – very hard – to achieve it. If you want to raise more money (and you should) you need to be active, energized, and engaged in fundraising in a way that makes your donors and team stand up and take notice.
Here are 5 ways to aggressively raise more money for your non-profit:
#1: Cast a Bigger Vision
Donors don’t make big gifts to small visions. If your non-profit’s stated goal is to increase your programs by 2% this year, you can’t expect anyone to want to help you increase your fundraising by 20%. Million-dollar gifts require million-dollar dreams.
If there’s anywhere in your non-profit where you should be aggressive, it’s with your mission and vision. When donors read your case for support, the hairs on the neck should stand on end, they should get a tear in their eye and a lump in their throat. That type of vision is possible for every non-profit, including yours.
#2: Make More Asks
So many fundraisers, board members, and Executive Directors worry that their organizations are making too many asks. Yet, when I talk with the staff at those non-profits, I often find out that “too many” means they’re asking the same people for money twice per year. That’s not too many… that’s too few. There’s an ask crisis at non-profits alright, and it’s a crisis of not asking as often as you should be!
I agree that if a major donor gives you a stretch gift this year, you need to be careful about asking her or him for another gift. But how many of your current donors are actually giving at a stretch level given their personal capacity? I’ll wager the answer is fewer than 5%.
For other donors, you need to build a culture of asking at your non-profit. Your donors need to get used to thinking about you as an organization that needs money and that asks for money. Donors need to get into a habit of giving, and they won’t ever get into that habit with you making enough asks. Don’t be shy… ask more (within reason) and you will receive more.
#3: Use the Phone Every Day
Every fundraiser knows that one of the keys to fundraising is building better donor relationships. But for many fundraisers, doing so only involves two communication channels: in-person (including meetings, events, and now… Zoom meetings), and through the written word (including e-mail and snail mail). Today’s non-profits have forgotten what fundraisers knew intuitively in the age before e-mail: the telephone is one of your most potent tools for raising money.
Donor calls work. When I say, “donor calls,” I don’t mean mass telemarketing (thought that might work for some organizations). Instead, I mean direct one-on-one calls between a fundraiser and a donor or prospect. Cultivation calls, stewardship calls, and even ask calls still work for building relationships with your donors.
If you’re not used to picking up the phone to call your donors, set an easy goal: make one donor call every day. That’s it. Call to say hi, give an update, and thank the donor for their support. If you get voicemail, leave a message, and consider the call completed. It’s easy and effective.
#4: Upgrade Your Donors Every Year
Your current donors are your organization’s biggest fundraising assets. That’s why you spend so much time and money on donor stewardship… you need to keep your current donors giving year after year.
But if you really want to be aggressive in your fundraising – if you want to raise far more money this year than you did last year – then donor retention isn’t the only goal for your stewardship efforts. You also need to focus on upgrading your donors every year.
Upgrading is the process of asking your current donors to give more this year than they did last year. Remember, most donors won’t upgrade their gifts unless you directly ask them too. Yet most non-profits never really make true upgrade asks. For a step-by-step process for asking for upgrades, read How to Get Your Donors to Give More this Year than Last Year. The process isn’t complicated, and best of all it works!
#5: Shift Resources when Possible
Of all of the strategies listed in this article, this one is probably the most difficult to implement. If you want to really supercharge your fundraising, you need to be willing to shift resources from low-performing activities to high-performing activities.
Chances are that your non-profit doesn’t have an overabundance of time, money, or resources to spend on fundraising activities. Yet so many organizations are working on events, bake sales, walk-a-thons, and fundraising appeals and campaigns that have low ROI for their investment. Now, I’m not saying that events, bake sales, and the like are necessarily low ROI. What I am saying is that every non-profit is engaged in some activities where the effort is far out of whack for the amount the activity raises each year.
Likewise, every non-profit has some activities that have a high ROI… activities where you are investing some time and money and seeing great results. The trick is being able to look at your fundraising activities objectively and switching resources from low ROI activities to high ROI activities. It’s hard. Your board will resist. Your staff may resist. But taking the time you spend on 8 small events and investing it into 1 event and months of major donor meetings might just be the type of aggressive fundraising change that your non-profit needs to thrive.