Tips for Raising Money for Your Nonprofit

Raising money is essential to managing a successful nonprofit organization. In fact, nothing is easier than knowing you should be raising money — and nothing is more difficult than asking for it. One of fundraising’s oldest adages is “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.”

Tell the story of your nonprofit

The best way to write an effective fundraising letter or make a successful presentation to potential donors is to tell a story. The best stories and presentations focus on the constituents you serve and how they benefit from your efforts. These stories are free of jargon, and they’re direct in manner. They’re hopeful stories that paint a picture of a better future and describe what “better” looks like in clear, specific terms.

Show how your nonprofit improves lives

In grant writing terms, this piece of advice would be worded as “clearly describe your outcomes.” Keep in mind that outcomes are quite different from outputs. Outputs is the word used for the quantity of work that a nonprofit organization produces — the number of meals served, shelter beds offered, workshops led, miles covered, or acres planted. Outcomes is the word for the changes that occur as a result of those outputs. Well-defined outcomes are the hallmark of a good proposal, fundraising letter, or pitch.

Make the numbers sparklingly clear

Effective requests for money include information about how much is needed to achieve change or test an idea. Present any data you cite in clear terms. In most cases, telling your reader or listener how much a needed change costs — the cost per child to participate in a special classroom for a year, the cost per injured sea mammal rescued, the cost per village to provide emergency food for a week — helps to make your point.

Research prospective donors

Before you send a fundraising letter, submit a proposal, or visit with a corporate giving director, find out as much as you can about the prospective contributor.

  • Do you have anything in common on a personal level?

  • Does this person give small amounts of money to a wide array of organizations or generous gifts to a few selected agencies?

  • Does the foundation like to be the only contributor to a given project, or does it prefer to support an activity along with others?

  • Does the corporate giving program prefer a low-key style, or does it like to have the company’s involvement highlighted?

The point of conducting research is to be able to talk or write about your organization in ways that are compelling to your listener or reader. You don’t want to warp your message or change your mission, but you do want to think about it in ways that respect your audience’s point of view.

Make it easy to respond

Always suggest a specific amount for donors to consider contributing. Connect that amount to what you need and to their potential giving levels. And always make immediate giving easy for them:

Distribute an addressed envelope and reply card with each mailing, allow a reader to click through your e-mail letter to the Donate Now button on your website, or set up a labeled box by the exit where they can leave contributions. Give potential donors pens, stamps, e-mail addresses, pledge cards, and any other tools to help them respond when you have their attention.

Keep good records

Individuals who give to your organization once are likely to continue giving for three or more years. If you thank them, address them as if they’re part of your organization, and generally treat them well, the size of their gifts is likely to increase over time.

For foundations, corporations, and government sources, you want to keep clear records of your original project goals and outcomes, project budget, and due dates for any required reports. Future support is more likely if you’re a conscientious grantee who submits reports on time and keeps clear records.

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