Your most powerful tool for fundraising: Relationships and the resource development planBy Dennis Hanthorn | Georgia Nonprofit NOW, Spring 2017
As you probably know by now, fundraising isn’t just about money: It’s about resource development, a team-wide effort to fully leverage every support-raising opportunity. That includes considered, concrete plans for mobilizing donor research, securing gifts, developing relationships, involving volunteers, and keeping everyone involved accountable. A solid resource development plan is tied to the strategic plan, executed by all personnel – board, staff, and executive director – and informed by a clear understanding of your nonprofit’s image in the community, not just in terms of work done but opportunities taken and squandered, or controversies inflicted and overcome.
Your plan should lay out your dollar goals and all of your efforts to achieve them, ranging from small-scale engagement (like “one-on-one” conversations over coffee) to large-scale cultivation (like an annual fundraising event) and everything in between – volunteer appreciation celebrations, end-of-year mailings, grant proposals, corporate sponsor solicitations, board member contributions, and more. Though all of these approaches are vital to successful resource development, it’s important to note that individuals – when factoring in both legacy giving and foundations run by a single person or family – are responsible for close to 90 percent of all charitable giving, as reported by Giving USA in their 2015 report.
Individuals – when factoring in both legacy giving and foundations run by a single individual or family – are responsible for close to 90 percent of all charitable giving.
That means relationship-building, on a number of fronts, is your most powerful tool for maximizing resource development. For instance, every time you collect names – at one of your events, at a table you’ve set up, through sales of tickets or services – is an opportunity to identify individuals new to you, screen them for their interest and potential to contribute, and get them involved with others who support you, ultimately building out your affinity groups and extending the reach of your message.
Another place relationships matter is among organizations, which can extend your reach, impact, and even your reputation. Corporations and foundations are especially interested in how you’re collaborating with others to multiply your impact – think of a museum that partners with a children’s hospital, or an animal rescue partnering with a senior center. Rather than closing up shop at 5pm and going home, major donors want to see you working overtime and out-of-bounds to help create true live-work-learn-play communities.
Putting the donor first
One of the most important parts of any resource development plan is thinking through each opportunity ahead of time to understand the most donor-centric way to approach it. A few questions you should ask:
Which audience should we focus on? Understanding each segment of your donor base is key. The more general the appeal, the harder it is to make a real connection, which is why being donor-centric is a major tenet of effective fundraising. For each opportunity, figure out which specific population (patients, or parents of teens, or environmentally-focused businesses) would be most receptive. If you properly segment your appeals, you won’t have to worry about over-soliciting your donors.
What is the best way to communicate the opportunity? For each opportunity, there’s an outreach tool that matches best, based on both your audience and your messengers. For instance, don’t instruct your board members to do their friend-raising over social media if they’re not accustomed to making philanthropic appeals online. On the other hand, don’t assume that 20- and 30-somethings are the only demographic using Facebook or Twitter.
How can we use this opportunity to reach new donors? Because you’ve got to start with the people you know, identify the “influencers” among them who know how to spread the word. When you ask them to share an appeal, be sure to let them know how valuable they are and how much you appreciate them for bringing in new people – then ask for their thoughts on deepening their role.
If you properly segment your appeals, you won’t have to worry about over-soliciting your donors.
As you can see, much of this planning comes down to knowing your supporters, including why and how they relate to your specific mission. Nonprofits should not be fighting for the same hundred donors – if you are, you need to do a better job understanding your community and crafting messages specifically for them.
Aligning approach, audience, and opportunity
Matching an appeal with the correct set of supporters is also a matter of thinking through the inherent strengths of each opportunity. Take an online crowdfunding opportunity like Georgia Gives Day, GCN’s yearly statewide day-of-giving campaign. Georgia Gives Day provides a lot of flexibility for organizations to craft their own approaches: For some, it’s a chance to highlight a particular initiative (like funding a new community center or a needed staffer) or to excite a particular audience (like Facebook followers who haven’t yet made a financial contribution). For others, it’s a way to rally their entire donor base, giving them a simple way to contribute to a critical mass of giving. However you view it, Georgia Gives Day has several inherent strengths worth taking advantage of.
Getting supporters to flex their “influencer” muscles means coming up with a message they’ll be excited to share.
One advantage is its share-ability: Like any online effort, Georgia Gives Day comes with a built-in opportunity to go viral over social media. That makes it a cost-efficient opportunity to net new donors, which can be one of the more expensive and difficult parts of resource development. Getting supporters with extensive social media networks to flex their “influencer” muscles means coming up with a message they’ll be excited to share. This applies offline too: Every person you count on year after year for support (including board and staff!) has friends they can invite to the next event or informal one-on-one.
In any case, it’s then the organization’s responsibility to get to know those friends-of-friends and figure out how to engage them. GCN provides ready-made messaging materials on the Georgia Gives Day site, but you must take time to adapt those resources to fit your particular cause, culture, and audience. Got a focus on kids? You’ll probably want to include some photos of them, or drawings they made. Want to raise interest in a marginalized population? Share some of their quotes discussing challenges or successes – or showing off their sense of humor. Appealing to an economy-minded audience, like policy-makers or the local chamber of commerce? Cite research into the dollar-multiplying impact of your work. (For instance, every couple who buys tickets to the symphony might then spend money on babysitting, a new outfit or two, dinner out, and transportation, pumping thousands of extra dollars into the local economy.)
Giving incentives are another unique feature of Georgia Gives Day, like the Max My Gift Challenge that gives participants the tools to secure matching funds from partners and major donors. Starting early is key: Want to secure a challenge grant, or volunteers to call up donors with reminders? You’ll need to vet supporters, engage the best candidates, and work out the logistics for their participation. You’ll also need to spend time with the tools provided on the Georgia Gives Day website to customize them for your organization and the audience you’re appealing to.
Our role as fundraisers isn’t making a one-time ask for money, it’s inspiring people to give, to continue giving, and to pass that inspiration along.
Our role as fundraisers isn’t making a one-time ask for money, it’s inspiring people to give, to continue giving, and to pass that inspiration along to their connections. Rather than counting on one event to carry your organization, or focusing on income at the expense of thoughtful donor cultivation, it’s incumbent on us to understand the unique value of each opportunity and potential supporter: for short-term gain, long-term goals, and continuous support.
Dennis Hanthorn is a senior consultant with GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group.