Fundraising is the lifeblood of every nonprofit organization. Not only is it one of the main ways organizations generate revenue, it can also help promote your work and your cause.
In this article, we will provide you with various methods of fundraising while also helping you decide which unique ideas work best for your nonprofit. We will also explain the importance of fundraising while giving you practical tips on best practices and mistakes to avoid.
Let’s dig in!
Importance of Fundraising for Nonprofits
Before we can discuss different methods of fundraising, it is important to first understand why fundraising is so essential in the nonprofit world.
Fundraising is how nonprofits raise money—usually by soliciting financial donations. It is thanks to this revenue that organizations can make a difference in their communities.
In other words, fundraisers help generate the financial support necessary to advance a specific mission.
But more than just raising money, fundraising is also a great way to engage your donors. By making them aware of the problems you are trying to solve, you can get your supporters invested in your organization’s success.
Fundraisers can also help you reach new audiences. By advertising a fundraising event (be it on social media or around your local community), you can spread the word about your nonprofit and its mission. This can help new people learn about your organization, and while they may not be able to donate immediately, they might do so in the future or know someone who would be interested in helping.
For example, check out this Facebook post highlighting the San Antonio Food Bank’s recent cereal drive. By seeing pictures of all of the cereal boxes together, supporters of the fundraiser can see how their individual donations contribute to a huge impact.
By successfully advertising your fundraiser, you can also gain the attention of potential new volunteers or even corporate sponsors.
As you can see, fundraisers are crucial to nonprofit organizations. They would not be able to do the good that they do without them.
Methods of Fundraising
Now that you understand a bit more about the different ways fundraisers can help your nonprofit, let’s go over some different fundraising ideas.
Providing donors with branded merchandise is not only a great method of fundraising, it can also help you establish a clear brand identity.
Be it through the more typical T-shirts, mugs, and tote bags, or a more unique idea like WWF’s Symbolic Adoption Plushies, merchandise provides your donors with an incentive to donate. These gifts can also serve as a reminder of your work and further motivate your donors to contribute to your cause.
Usually, nonprofits present these as “thank you” gifts to their supporters should they donate above a certain amount. Make sure to consult with a nonprofit lawyer to learn more about any regulations related to merchandise in your state.
Good merchandise can help you solidify a brand identity. Having your logo or your name on the merchandise helps publicize your organization and create a tangible presence in the real world.
Useful merchandise is a good way to keep your nonprofit in the front of your donors’ minds. If they are constantly seeing a calendar or bookmarker with your nonprofits’ logo and name, they will be reminded of your organization, your cause, and that might motivate them to donate without the need of letters or emails.
To create merchandise your donors would be interested in having, there will be some upfront cost. While there are many companies willing to fulfill bulk orders at a discount, you will still have to pay money upfront and then calculate how much you’ll need to raise in order to cover that cost.
Similar to the point above, in order to create higher quality merchandise, you might need to hire specialized professionals who will help you develop a product that your donors would be proud to own.
While shirts, mugs, and calendars are great options, consider creating merchandise that is tied to your cause. For example, if your nonprofit raises money to help with child literacy programs, bookmarkers or other literary products might be a good way to go.
Be it an in-person event or online, auctions have always been a great way to raise funds for nonprofits.
This method of fundraising presents donors with items that they are interested in purchasing and lets them bid on them. The highest bid gets the item, and the funds go to the nonprofit.
Auctioned items can vary tremendously, giving you plenty of options to choose from.
In many cases, businesses or celebrities might be interested in donating something to be auctioned. They might advertise it to their audience, increasing your nonprofit’s reach.
Though most of us think of auctions as something that happens during an in-person event, the truth is that they can happen online as well. Silent auctions are usually held during a certain period of time, allowing users to bid on the items and, should they win, have them shipped to them.
Due to the bidding nature of this method of fundraising, it can be very easy to raise a lot of revenue should the items be highly coveted.
Auctions can be a fun way to get your community involved in your cause. Local restaurants, shops, or even individuals can donate items, services, or experiences to contribute to the success of the fundraiser.
Auctions are highly dependent on audience interest. For this reason, if your items fail to interest your audience, you might end up not raising enough funds to justify their acquisition.
To be successful, it is important to properly advertise the auction. And depending on how stretched your staff is, this might be more trouble than it is worth.
Research your audience. Don’t assume that just because a restaurant has a fancy name or a spa is donating a free massage that you will immediately garner interest. As with everything in this sector, you must know your audience to be successful.
Legacy gifts can be difficult to discuss. Most often, they happen when a longtime donor has passed away and they leave something for your nonprofit in their will.
It can be difficult to incentivize your longtime supporters to add your organization as a benefactor, as this would involve discussing the subject of their deaths. However, providing donors with long-time recognition for their generosity is a great way to incentivize this type of donation.
This type of fundraising requires minimal involvement of your nonprofit. It is done almost entirely by the donor.
This type of fundraising can serve as an unexpected boost in revenue that can help your nonprofit through tough times.
This is a better option for more established nonprofits who have longtime donors who have personal interest in your cause. It is a long-term fundraising strategy that takes years to properly cultivate.
As this method of fundraising is, unfortunately, dependent on the passing of a donor, it can be unpredictable and unreliable. You do not know when your supporters will pass away, and neither can you count on a specific amount of donations.
Just because you have minimal work to do with this fundraiser doesn’t mean you cannot help your supporters. Having information about legacy gifts, resources your supporters can use, or guides to help them through the process available on your website can be incredibly helpful.
For tips on how you can develop your relationship with your donors, you can check out this post on our blog.
Developed by the ALS Association, this viral social media challenge is estimated to have increased funding for ALS research by 187%.
Not only that, thanks to the participation of celebrities worldwide, the challenge succeeded in raising awareness about this disease and the resources needed to improve care for those living with this condition.
Social media challenges can be a unique idea for fundraising and a great way to get younger audiences involved with your nonprofit.
Social media challenges help raise awareness about your specific mission. Even those who cannot donate to your nonprofit directly can learn about your work and the solutions you are trying to provide.
When successful, social media challenges not only give you a big boost during their moment of virality, but they increase donations throughout years to come.
Social media is unpredictable, and figuring out what will strike a chord with an audience is nearly impossible. Because there’s no magic formula to follow, this method of fundraising can be challenging.
Your social media challenge will inevitably affect the way your nonprofit is perceived by the public. While an increase in awareness is great, if, for some unintentional reason, your challenge does not strike the chord, there is a chance that your reputation might be negatively affected.
Choose something simple, quick, cheap, and eye-catching. One of the reasons the Ice Bucket Challenge was so successful was that it was so easy to replicate, and the reactions of the participants were entertaining to watch.
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So far, we’ve discussed why fundraising is important and explored a few good fundraising ideas for both generating revenue for your nonprofit and spreading awareness. But how do you know which method is best suited for your organization?
By answering the four questions below, you can better understand which fundraising methods you should pursue.
Who Is Your Audience?
When choosing a fundraising strategy, one of the most important things to figure out is what speaks to your audience.
For example, auctions may not attract younger donors who have less disposable income. However, social media challenges could be a great way to motivate them to donate and spread the word about your work.
There is a wide range of donors out there, and while all of them are unique with their own tastes and personalities, knowing what engages and inspires them to financially support your cause is key.
What Is Your Budget?
If you haven’t already, create an annual budget, and see how much you have to spend on your fundraisers.
After that, estimate the total cost of your ideal fundraiser. Is it more expensive than you can afford? If so, what changes could you make to your plan in order to make it possible?
Would you need to change fundraising methods entirely?
Remember that just because you cannot do something extravagant now, doesn’t mean you cannot do so in the future.
Also keep in mind that some fundraising strategies require more capital than others. You never want to spend more money than you end up raising. You must take these factors into consideration when looking at your budget and figuring out which fundraising method is right for your nonprofit.
What Is Your Fundraising Goal?
Going hand-in-hand with your budget is your fundraising goal.
Make sure that when you pick a fundraising strategy you understand how much money you are hoping to raise. Based on your mission, your audience, and your budget, what would be the most efficient way to achieve said goal?
Having a clear objective will make it much easier to pick a fundraising method that is best suited to help you meet that goal.
What Is Your Time Frame?
Finally, make sure to consider how much time you have to get your fundraising done.
For example, if you want to hold a live auction during an event, do you have enough time to secure items that your audience would be interested in? If you are considering creating some merchandise in time for the holiday season, do you have enough time to get all of that done without sacrificing quality?
Remember to think about deadlines and timing when deciding which fundraising method is best for you.
You’re almost ready to get started on your next fundraising project! Before you do, consider these best practices and mistakes to avoid.
Build Strong Relationships with Donors
This should go without saying, but donors do not like to be taken for granted. For this reason, building a strong relationship with your donors is the best way to guarantee they’ll continue to support your nonprofit whenever they can afford it.
Make sure to send them thank you letters that have their names correctly spelled and that explicitly express gratitude for their contribution, no matter how small it may seem. Keep them informed of your efforts so that they can feel like their money has made a difference.
Provide Multiple Ways of Donating
Different people have different preferences as to how they like to give their donations.
There are some people who like to donate via text. Others prefer to do it directly through platforms or through programs such as PayPal Giving Fund. Then, there are those who prefer the good old-fashioned letters and paper envelopes, as that helps them keep physical files on their financial activities.
Do not rob yourself of potential funds by not making donating to your nonprofit as easy a process as it can be.
As an example, take a look at this page for Feeding America. They list multiple different ways their supporters can help their mission, providing them with flexibility to donate in whatever way works best for them.
Offering recurring donation options could also help you secure long-term support that goes beyond your current fundraising campaign.
Think Long Term
When planning a fundraiser, it is easy to get tunnel vision. You are so focused on ensuring that your fundraiser is a success that you can overlook what to do once the fundraiser has ended.
Consider different ways you can build on the success of a fundraiser. As we mentioned above, offering a way for your supporters to make recurring donations can ensure you’ll continue to receive some support even as the fundraiser event comes to an end.
You can also consider making your fundraiser an annual tradition.
For quite a few years now, PetSmart has been selling plushies during the holiday season that are part of their Chance and Friendscollection, where 10% of the purchasing price is donated to the PetSmart Charities. You can always do a similar initiative, creating a merch collection that will have new products at a certain season every year, therefore incentivising your donors to donate again and again.
Have a Clear Message
Having a clear message is sometimes not as easy as it seems.
When you are so deeply involved in your organization’s mission, it can be difficult to remember how to approach those who know nothing about your cause. Knowing how to pitch your fundraisers in a clear and concise manner is the key to raising awareness and reaching new audiences.
If possible, try to avoid any complicated terms that might be unfamiliar to outsiders or newcomers. Creating a slogan that clearly states what you are trying to accomplish and why can help you more easily communicate with your donors.
Don’t be afraid to be too on the nose. You want to ensure your supporters know exactly what you are trying to accomplish so that they can feel confident that their donation is making a difference.
Wrapping Up: The Next Steps
Be it big or small, long established or new, fundraising is the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization.
Not only do fundraisers generate the revenue to sustain the organization and advance its cause, they also help spread awareness and reach new audiences. Hopefully, this article equipped you with ideas, best practices, and tips to succeed in raising funds for your nonprofit.
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