The Four Lessons That Transformed My Fundraising
Raising money is tough, no matter how important the cause.
According to grantspace.org, only half of U.S. nonprofits survive past five years, and of those that survive, about one third are in financial distress.
I’ve spent several years figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to raising money for a nonprofit. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that getting private funding comes down to four things: persistence, creativity, existing relationships and talking.
Many people express excitement and intention to donate to the cause, but then don’t follow through. We can decrease this, somewhat, by capturing the donation while excitement is still high. For our regular donors, a recurring donation program helps get donations from those who have agreed to donate on a monthly or yearly schedule.
If someone hasn’t agreed to donate the first couple of times you asked, it doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. If they’ve expressed interest, continue following up (without annoying them). Persistence is how we got funding from Wells Fargo. After applying for several grants, we were declined every time. We maintained the relationship and were eventually funded through one of their private foundations, and they became one of our biggest supporters. Persistence pays off.
- Ask for donations of items or services. While this doesn’t provide direct finding, it can ease the financial burden in other ways, freeing up your cash flow from other sources.
- Ask for sponsorships. Reduce your organization’s expenses by partnering with a for-profit organization who will help sponsor your:
- Travel fees
- Marketing Materials
- Sometimes just offering sponsor acknowledgement at events or in promotional materials is all an organization needs to see this as a win-win for them.
- Sit on volunteer boards or committees that share your interests. You’ll have increased exposure and opportunity to share about the cause you’re connected to. And if we have learned anything about fundraising, it’s all about numbers. The more people you can reach out to, the more potential donors you’ll find. The more potential donors you can find, the more donations you’ll receive.
- Partner with other nonprofits to share the responsibility and financial burden of creating and hosting events. As with donations of items or services, this doesn’t necessarily provide direct funding, but it can free up your cash-flow for other things.
- If you have a for-profit company, don’t be afraid to tell your customers about your nonprofit cause (if it’s related). Some of my biggest donors are also clients of my LLC.
Use Your Existing Relationships (and Make Your Cause Relevant to Them)
People give to people. You’d be surprised how many people will support you, even if they don’t necessarily support your cause, simply because they believe in you. This is true for employers, friends, family members, strangers, corporations, etc.
Bonus points if you can show them how your cause is relevant to them.
If people see how your cause is related to them, they’ll be more likely to give. But don’t expect them to connect the dots; you have to do it for them. Develop creative language about how your cause impacts or is affected by another person’s interests. If you can create a bridge, they’ll be more likely to take notice and offer support.
Talk to Everyone About the Work You Do
Sometimes funding comes from unlikely sources. Get into the habit of talking to everyone about your cause and your organization. You never know when someone will take a keen interest or know someone who would like to donate to your cause.
In fact, this is how we secured a relationship with our biggest funder. I was at a dinner with extended family and one of my relatives casually asked me what I was up to. I mentioned my nonprofit and one thing led to another. Before I knew it, we were in negotiations and securing a significant recurring donation. Make it a habit to talk about your organization often. Even a casual conversation can turn into your biggest opportunity.
The key takeaway is that raising money is hard work, and there aren’t really any short cuts. Nevertheless, if you’re persistent and creative, and remember to lean on your existing relationships and speak with everyone you can about your cause, you’ll find that hard work pays off.
Jessica Yaffa is a two-time published author and nationally recognized speaker, author, and domestic violence advocate. Her nonprofit has helped thousands of women, men, and children overcome the effects of relationship abuse and domestic violence.