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A Step-By-Step Guide To Getting Started With Fundraising

This guide explains how to buy fundraising software in a few simple steps.
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Are you a “small” nonprofit just getting started with fundraising? If so, you’re not alone.

As of 2021, nearly one million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. reported receiving under $50,000 U.S. dollars in revenue, approximately 70 percent of all nonprofits registered in the United States.

When I served in my first executive director position for a small community-based healthcare nonprofit that served the homeless, I still remember the first fundraising conference that I attended. I thought they were speaking Klingon. Even when I understood what they were saying, most of the content didn’t apply to my humble nonprofit.

What did I do? I made lemonade with my lemons and raised a lot of funds. You can too! Here’s how.

The Parkinson Association of the Carolinas

Small nonprofits like Voluntary Health Associations that want to raise private funds don’t always know how to get started or how to grow past their initial efforts.

Recently when I learned about the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas (PAC), I was reminded of that first fundraising conference and the important lessons I learned over the next years—steps that I defined and share with you below. Allow me to explain.

PAC’s work is to support people living with Parkinson’s disease throughout North and South Carolina so that they can remain independent and stay active. They use their resources and expertise to support, educate, and empower those impacted by the disease.

Similar to when I served in my first executive director position, PAC was using an inadequate fundraising tool. Hear directly from Ann Marie, Parkinson Association’s executive director:

“We were using Access 2010 software as our donor database, and we lost records after input—sometimes 100 – 200 at a time! That would require entering all the information again. It was awful. We also wanted a database that could do more than just store information and provide reporting, but it had to also be user friendly.”

Like Anne Marie’s terrific nonprofit, and the one I headed up years ago, Voluntary Health Associations (VHAs) are composed of individuals, both lay and professional, who are voluntarily and democratically organized. Their primary mission is to combat a particular disease, disability, or group of diseases to improve and protect the patient’s health. These nonprofits are supported mainly by voluntary public contributions. VHAs engage in an array of direct-service programs, which can include membership, support, advocacy, education, and research.

One thing unifies VHAs: we need to stay organized to fundraise more effectively. Yes, it’s true; those nonprofits that are organized raise more funds. Again, Ann Marie says it best:

“Since implementing Bloomerang, we’ve come to appreciate the time saved on inputting donor data. It’s less time-consuming to enter a new constituent into Bloomerang than it was in Access. I’d say it’s cut down the time used by half. Best of all, we changed our donor credit card processor to Stripe, and all the information went directly to our new Bloomerang CRM.”

Since implementing Bloomerang, the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas has seen improvements with several fundraising pain points because of donor data accessibility and consolidation: “Not losing records, the time it took to enter the constituent information and then donor information for that same person in Access, and pulling constituents into the newsletter instead of manually updating Constant Contact.” Ann Marie and her team have also benefited from improvements to their productivity. “It’s taking less time for our program director to pull the newsletter together.

A step-by-step guide to getting started with fundraising

Starting or advancing private fundraising for your small healthcare community-based nonprofit can be a rewarding venture. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started or advance from where you are, with a focus on the importance of having a modern donor database.

These are the steps that I took to grow and advance the nonprofit that I led—and they worked.

Step 1: Define your fundraising goals and objectives

Clearly define your fundraising goals, whether it’s funding a specific project, expanding services, or covering operational costs. Set measurable objectives to track progress. You must specify the exact revenue amount you need and make sure the numbers are real. Do your research.

Step 2: Understand your target funders/donors

Identify and understand your potential funders or donors. Consider demographics, interests, and giving preferences. This knowledge will guide your fundraising strategies. For example, I hired a grant writer to make an assessment of what a private foundation program would be worth to our organization. That assessment gave us a real projection of three types of funders: Likely, Unlikely, and Undetermined. It also specified the potential funding we would likely secure in years one, two, and three. Based on that assessment, I then contracted with the grant writer to work on our best prospects. That’s all I could afford at the time, so that’s where we started. In later years, we pursued other prospects from the Undetermined and Unlikely categories, and that went well enough to justify the expense.

Step 3: Develop a compelling story

While you’re working on Step 2, craft a compelling narrative that highlights the impact of your nonprofit’s work. Share success stories and testimonials, and give specific examples of how donations make a difference and at what dollar levels. Pilot your stories with more experienced colleagues and get their feedback about the draft before you use it. I piloted ours with two other CEOs of similar nonprofits and received terrific feedback.

Step 4: Create a diverse fundraising strategy

Explore various fundraising avenues, including:

  • Online Fundraising: Set up a user-friendly website with a donation portal. Take advantage of social media platforms for crowdfunding campaigns.
  • Events: Plan fundraising events such as galas, auctions, or community gatherings.
  • Corporate partnerships: Seek partnerships with local businesses for sponsorships or employee-giving programs.
  • Government: Explore what government funders may be interested in your work based on their contracts with similar nonprofits.

Step 5: Establish a donor management system

As Ann Marie noted, invest in a modern donor database to efficiently manage and track donor information. Like Bloomerang, this system should:

  • Store contact information: Keep track of donor names, contact details, and giving history.
  • Segment donor groups: Group donors based on demographics, giving history, or preferences for targeted communication.
  • Automate tasks: Streamline administrative tasks, such as sending acknowledgment emails or tax receipts.
  • Deliver predictive giving insights: Automatically analyze every record in your database to discover your ideal donors without complicated steps or complex coding.
  • Ensure security: Ensure the database complies with data protection regulations to safeguard donor information.
  • Include volunteer management: Your volunteers deserve a smooth process. This process must  be easy for volunteers to register for and schedule activities on their own. If you care for your volunteers now, they’re likely to become donors in the future.

Step 6: Engage donors effectively

Regularly communicate with your donors through newsletters, emails, and social media. Provide updates on your organization’s activities, the impact of donations, and upcoming fundraising initiatives. There are many examples of this content and how to do it here on the Bloomerang blog.

Step 7: Acknowledge and recognize donors

Show appreciation for your donors. Send personalized thank-you notes, recognize them on your website or at events, and provide exclusive updates or perks for their support. Email and texting are the two most important ways to communicate with them, as well as timely phone calls.

Step 8: Monitor and evaluate continuously

Regularly evaluate your fundraising efforts. Use data from your donor database to analyze which strategies are most effective and make adjustments accordingly. The reporting functions within Bloomerang are second to none.

Step 9: Stay compliant

Understand and adhere to fundraising regulations in your area. Make sure your organization is transparent about fund usage. This Board Source resource will help.

Step 10: Cultivate long-term relationships

Build long-term relationships with funders and donors by keeping them informed and involved. Encourage ongoing support through recurring donations or participating in your organization’s activities. Playing the long game brings amazing rewards.

Step 11: Adapt and innovate

Stay informed about new fundraising trends and technologies. Be willing to adapt your strategies to evolving donor preferences. This is also where Bloomerang can help.

Step 12: Evaluate and celebrate successes

Regularly assess your fundraising efforts against your goals. Celebrate successes, learn from challenges, and continuously refine your approach. I found it useful to issue a bi-annual report to my board about higher-level fundraising performance.

Remember, the success of your private fundraising efforts relies on a combination of effective communication, strategic planning, and the use of modern tools like a donor database to manage and nurture donor and volunteer relationships.

Will these steps work for you? Are there other steps you’d include? Let us know in the comments section below.

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