nonprofit marketing/fundraising

What’s on your integrated development (marketing + fundraising) plan for the coming year?

  • Major individual gift fundraising?
  • Annual fundraising direct mail?
  • Recurring gift fundraising and/or memberships?
  • E-appeals?
  • Telemarketing?
  • Foundation grant research, writing and reporting?
  • Government grant research, writing and reporting?
  • Business sponsorships?
  • Legacy/planned giving fundraising?
  • Capital/endowment campaign?
  • Special events?
  • A blog?
  • An e-newsletter?
  • A hard-copy newsletter?
  • An annual report?
  • Social media awareness building?
  • Social or peer fundraising?
  • Advertising?
  • Free media?
  • Board and/or committee development?
  • Volunteer development?

You Have a Myriad of Strategic Choices

What you choose will depend on thinking about your goals, determining your objectives and laying out the strategies that will help you get what you need.

For many nonprofits, especially those operating on a fiscal year, this is planning and budgeting time. Even if you’re on a different cycle, it’s important to continually review what’s working, what’s not working, and why.

The first step is to think seriously about what your real life and death needs are.

Or, as Seth Godin puts it, what’s your oxygen and what’s your chocolate?

Do you have a chocolate problem or an oxygen problem?

Run out of chocolate, and that’s a shame. Run out of oxygen and you’re doomed.

Sometimes, we overdo our reliance on chocolate. It’s better in small doses–too much and it loses its magic. And sometimes we confuse the thing we want with the thing we need…

If your day or your project or your organization focuses too much on finding the next piece of chocolate, you might forget to focus on the oxygen you actually need.

— Seth Godin

What’s Your Oxygen?

Is your nonprofit on life support? Or are you healthy as an ox?

Most nonprofits are somewhere in between.

Take time to reflect on where you are, and what you need to stay that way or improve.

This is a great time for a SWOT analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. [I’ll be offering a FREE webinar on this topic May 23rd if you want to register.]

Only then will you be able to put strategies in rank order, assign a percentage of time you intend to devote to each, and drop those for which you’ll have no time, or talent, off your work plan.

If you include strategies on your plan you shouldn’t be doing (because they’re not priorities), or maybe can’t be doing (due to lack of resources), you’ll have trouble breathing.

If unessential tasks (i.e. chocolate) stay on your plan, sure as shootin’ they’ll end up taking up time you don’t have and distracting from things that truly must get done.

Chocolate is okay, but in moderation.

Do you have too much chocolate?

What’s Your Chocolate?

Trust me, I know how easy it is to fall into the chocolate trap.

People will offer you sweets. All. The. Time. It may be a well-meaning board member, donor or volunteer. It may be your boss. It may be someone who works for you, and you want to reward their initiative. It’s great you have folks with ideas. But… not every idea deserves to make its way into your annual strategic fundraising and marketing plan.

Chocolate crowds out the oxygen.

Sometimes before you can really breathe free you need to first figure out what chocolate is already lurking in your plan.

  • Is it fundraising galas? An army will need to work on this for most of the year, but people love it…
  • Is it community events? This is a great way to reach out to Millennials… young families…
  • Is it emerging social media strategies? Gotta get on Insta and Snapchat…
  • Is it selling scrip or asking folks to patronize certain web portals that give you pennies on your donor’s dollar? This will be a great way for folks to give without even thinking about it…
  • Is it mailing mindlessly to an outdated in-house list with folks who haven’t responded to your calls to action in five years, or more? If they’re on the list, they must be good prospects…
  • Something else?

None of this chocolate is bad, per se. But it may be too much. Or just not your best choice at this point in time. And you actually might be allergic to some of it!

How to Overcome Chocolate Cravings

I know it’s hard to pass up the chocolate, but I urge you not to make my mistake. Oh, yes. I’ve made my fair share. I’m going to tell you a little story about a time I led from what I enjoyed and wanted to do rather than from what we truly needed to accomplish. First and foremost.

True Confession of My Mistake: I love to shop craft fairs. They’re my chocolate. So one year I began asking designers if they’d donate items to the social services agency I worked for. It was exciting; they all gave me items valued over $100! I teamed up with my technology-savvy staff to build an online auction platform (before you could buy them off the shelf) to create “Shop in the Name of Love.” Sounds great, right? Every month we listed a couple dozen crafty items, plus secured donated gift certificates for travel and dining. We ‘made’ about $2,000/month and I fooled myself into thinking this was (1) a great way to bring in new donors, (2) a fun way to cultivate current donors, and (3) a branding tool to be seen as fun and cutting edge, and (4) a way to raise ‘plus’ money.

Ha, ha and triple ha! The reality was different:

  • We put in countless hours of time (literally; who counts?) to inventory, write up, photograph, respond to questions, package and mail the items.
  • We spent more resources promoting the auctions (beautiful post cards I could show to potential donors to make the endeavor look classy and legit; plus we left them in boutiques and cafes around town).
  • At least four different staff (me, the digital guy, the photographer, the writer, the marketing project manager) had to divert time away from other more cost-effective strategies to put in time on this initiative.
  • The auction buyers did not generally convert to donors.
  • I didn’t let go of my chocolate easily; we let it go on too long without serious evaluation, continuing for a year!

Identify Your Biggest Problems; Fix Those First

Stop shoving the least cost-effective strategies to the top of your list and dropping the most cost-effective ones to the bottom.

If you’re curious what gives most nonprofits the biggest net/net bang for their buck, take a look at this chart from ‘cost of fundraising’ pioneer and guru James Greenfield:

nonprofit marketing/fundraising

How does this cost/benefit analysis line up with your strategic development plan for the coming year?

And how likely is it your strategic plan will help you meet your biggest needs and address your biggest problems?

TIPS: 7 Things to Ask Yourself:

Note that each of these questions opens up a discussion and potential can of worms.

For each topic I’ll point you to other potential resources if you want to dig in.  And you should!

Because… if you fail to ask/answer these questions, you’ll just be winging your fundraising and marketing strategies. And, I guarantee you’ll end up with more chocolate than you can stomach. So…

  • Stop just ‘doing stuff’ for the sake of doing and staying busy.  
  • Stop getting sidetracked by things that are easier to do.
  • Stop letting the loudest voices drown out your voice (and common sense).
  • Start focusing on what really will matter in the long run.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. What are our biggest resource needs?

For example, do you need more money?  More skilled staff? Better infrastructure? Stronger board leadership? Something else? If you lack budget, technology, staffing, training or any of the other pre-conditions to success, you’re dead in the water before you begin. For more on essential fundraising/marketing planning pre-conditions SEE:

2. Do we need more new donors?

Is your donor base growing, or are you stuck? Are you losing as many, or more, donors than you acquire? If so, you’ll want to set yourself up to win by building your mailing lists. To do this, you’ll want to think about where to find more people like those who already donate as well as whether there are new markets you can approach. For more on donor acquisition strategy SEE:

3. What’s our donor retention rate?

If you don’t know how you’re doing, it’s difficult to improve. Donor attrition is a silent killer. Make some noise and prioritize building donor love and loyalty. For more on keeping your donors SEE:

4. What’s our donor upgrade/downgrade rate? Average gift? Cost of fundraising? Rate of donor lapse?

There are all sorts of metrics you may wish to calculate, depending on your goals. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. For more on measuring, and managing, the right things so you can make progress toward meaningful goals SEE:

5. Do we need to meet more with donor prospects face-to-face?

Too often nonprofits give short shrift to donors who could make transformative major gifts. Whatever your size, you should consider ramping up your major gifts fundraising program. And that means getting out of the office! For more on major gift fundraising SEE:

6. Do we need to develop more sources of sustainable income?

Some nonprofits can survive on one income stream, but not many. It’s best to diversify, and that usually means a mix of earned and contributed income. Within those two buckets, you’ll generally have even more diversification. Ask yourself if you have a robust, renewable individual giving pipeline. After all, that’s where 80% of contributions come from per Giving USA. Ask yourself whether you need to become one of your own annual funders by developing an endowment. Ask yourself whether you’re missing out on potential sources of revenue from foundations, businesses or government. For more on building sustainable sources of funding SEE:

7. Do we need more committed volunteers?

Are you trying to do everything yourself, without support from your board, committee volunteers, direct service volunteers and even donors who could help you as ambassadors, advocates and askers? Have you considered what it might take to recruit and manage more volunteers, and maybe even convert them into donors?  For more on developing your passionate volunteer base SEE:


I know this is a LOT of material, but I also know you can sort through it.

It will be worth it, and once you’ve gone through the exercise of (1) conducting your own SWOT analysis and (2) asking yourself these key questions, you’ll find yourself approaching your work with more joy, less dread.

Think of it as the Marie Kondo way of cleaning house at your nonprofit.  It will take some time, so give yourself – and your entire team – that time.

You really need the oxygen.

P.S.  Don’t forget to join us for the free webinar: SWOT’s Up?  In every way possible, Bloomerang and I are teamed up to help you be the most effective do-gooder you can be!

Download this free SWOT analysis guide and template to shine a light on your nonprofit’s future so you can shape it proactively, not retroactively.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.