There are a lot of ways to raise money. There are a ton of fundraising platforms, hundreds of different types of events you can host, and thousands of grants you can apply for. But the single best piece of advice that I or any other fundraising consultant can offer your non-profit is this: double down on individual giving.
This is true for every single non-profit, from small start-up organizations to huge international charities. It’s true no matter your mission field, no matter what your board looks like, and no matter the size of your staff. It’s as close as you can come to a universal truth in fundraising. Focus on individual giving.
What is Individual Giving?
Simply put, individual giving is all of the money you raise from individual donors. When it comes to non-profit fundraising, there are basically three different type of donors: individuals, foundations, and corporations. Money raised from bequests should generally be lumped in with individuals, as should money raised from small family foundations that are basically an extension of an individual donor.
Your non-profit likely raises money from individual donors in a number of ways: direct major donor asks, annual appeal letters, online giving, events, etc. Money from foundations is usually raised through grantwriting. Money from corporations may be raised through grantwriting, event or other corporate sponsorships, and through direct asks.
Why is Individual Giving So Important?
The reason why individual giving is so important is because that’s where most of the money is. According to GivingUSA, individual giving accounts for nearly 70% of all money raised by non-profits in the United States. This percentage fluctuates annually, generally between 70-80% of all giving. The same is true in the UK and other industrialized nations.
When it comes to non-profit fundraising, you need to go where the money is. Yet so many organizations spend an outsized amount of time worrying about grantwriting and corporate partnerships. These can be important parts of your overall fundraising efforts, but if 70-80% of the money available to your non-profit comes from individual donors, then you should be spending 70-80% of the time, money, and energy that you devote to fundraising focused on individual giving.
Don’t get distracted. Don’t listen to people who tell you that major donors have too much influence, or that you shouldn’t be so focused on donor-centered fundraising. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your non-profit does great work and serves people in need. I can tell you, from working with thousands of non-profits, that the best way to serve those people is to raise more money, and the best way to raise more money is to be laser-focused on your donors and your individual giving programs.
How Can We Raise More from Individual Donors?
Since individual giving is so important to the work of your non-profit, how can your raise more money from individual donors? The best ways to increase your individual giving revenue are as follows:
Build Relationships with Major Donors
When it comes to individual giving, major donors will provide the bulk of your revenue. That’s why it is so important that you build a major donor fundraising system at your non-profit.
The most important thing to focus on with your major donors is relationship building. This means you need to measure your progress by how many phone calls, visits, and personalized e-mails you are sending to your major donors. Your emphasis should be on direct and personal donor contact.
Focus on Donor Stewardship
Did you know that the average non-profit will lose over 50% of its individual donors each year? This makes it nearly impossible for the average non-profit to grow. If you have to replace half of your donors each year just to stay even, your individual giving program will have a hard time keeping up.
Fortunately, there is a solution: great donor stewardship. The average non-profit loses half of its individual donors because the average non-profit does not steward its donors well. When someone makes a gift, you should thank them, recognize them, communicate with them, and over time, gently direct them towards their next gift. Strong individual giving programs rely on great donor stewardship.
Create a Donor Communications Calendar
Major donors are important, but they’re not the only segment in your individual giving program. You should also have a steady pipeline of mid-level and low-dollar donors that give to your organization. In order to build relationships with those level donors (as well as to support your major donor efforts), your non-profit needs to have a donor communications calendar in place that governs the flow of your mass communications (e-mail newsletters, snail mail newsletter, mass solicitations, etc.)
Don’t fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to donor comms. Don’t send out an e-mail newsletter whenever the mood strikes, or whenever a board member asks about it. Instead, build out a calendar to support your individual giving program and stick with it. That way you’ll stay top of mind for your donors and friends.
Remember, if you want to grow your fundraising program, you need to focus on individual giving. Individual donors are responsible for 70% or more of the annual donations to non-profits in the industrialized world. If you want to raise more money, you need to go where the money is, and focus your development programs on individual donors.