Fundraising Strategies Checklist

What you don’t do right now will come back to bite you in the butt. Because you exist within a fast-moving, competitive environment. If you’re not actively cooking things up you’ll have little nourishment to offer. So, whatever is on your back burner, move it to the forefront and get cooking with a fundraising strategies checklist.

Other nonprofits are planning…. adapting… communicating… asking. Other nonprofits are not freezing in time; you shouldn’t either.

Here are 13 fundraising strategies checklist items I want you do to NOW.

  • Perhaps you did them before, but recently stopped or cut back.
  • Perhaps you did them before, but inadvertently cut corners and didn’t maximize your chances for success.
  • Perhaps you’d planned to do them before, but never got around to it.
  • Perhaps you never planned to do these things, thinking they weren’t important.

Wherever you were, or are, consider moving towards a better, stronger place.

There’s no time like the present, because right now it’s the only time you have.

Don’t wait — get started with this fundraising strategies checklist.

Carpe diem.

ASK

1. More than Once

ASK, dang it! Ask, ask, ask. 

Don’t wait for times to get better. You need funding now. If you don’t secure it, you may not survive. 

Your job as a fundraiser is to consistently offer donors the direct opportunity to be a hero.

Stop feeling good about the fact that you’re not bothering them right now (because, after all, times are tough and you want to be considerate). Your job is not to make excuses on others’ behalf or to assume what your supporters – folks who’ve already stepped up to say they value what you do – may wish to do. It’s their money, not yours. And it will stay that way. Unless you invite them to give. 

All donation amounts matter.

Send regular targeted appeals to everyone on your list, not just major donors! People today truly want to be helpful. If you don’t ask them straight up, others will. And you’ll risk losing them because you pretty much ignored them. Truly, asking donors to help is the most donor-centric thing you can do

Asking biweekly, or even weekly, right now is not too much as long as you come from an authentic place and treat your donors as partners in keeping your vision, mission and values alive.

2. Relevant Messaging

Don’t simply tweak last year’s annual appeal; it won’t seem relevant. 

People on your list really want to know what’s going on, both the good and the bad. This has always been true, but it’s truer now than ever. Trust them with the truth. Be clear what your current needs are so donors can step up to the plate to help you address those needs. Ask with sensitivity and empathy, but do ask. 

3. One Specific Ask

Stick with a single, direct call to action per appeal. 

You may think it makes sense to bundle things together to avoid sending too many emails, but it waters down your appeal and won’t yield the results you seek. 

For example, “Will you contribute to the “Coronavirus Resilience Fund?” should not be paired with “Will you call your congressperson to make your concerns known?” Nor should you pair “Give to our challenge campaign? with “RSVP for our online event.” You may get too many people doing the one thing that’s not your priority, and too few doing the thing you really wanted. Or you may get folks doing nothing at all, because they couldn’t decide which action to take (this is called ‘analysis paralysis.’)

4. Multiple Giving Options 

People respond well to choices, as long as there aren’t too many of them. 

Having a single call to action – just an ‘ask,’ rather than sundry other ways to engage with your cause – doesn’t mean you must ask for a general (aka boring) gift to “support our mission.” Rather than simply asking for something generic, what about breaking your ask down into different programs that may float different donors’ boats? This can be handled in one of two ways: 

  1. Send different appeals targeting donors with different interests. If your donor gives every year for a particular project, it makes sense to show them you know where their passion lies. You’ll likely get a bigger gift if you honor your donor’s preference and ask for this purpose. This doesn’t mean you can’t also offer the opportunity to give towards other programs on your remit piece or donation landing page.
  2. Include an opportunity to earmark the gift to one among a small group of programs. When added together, these should comprise more or less the totality of your operating budget. For example, an animal rescue organization might specify making a gift for dogs, cats or where most needed. A human services organization might suggest seniors, children, families or where most needed. When you use a broad brush you won’t risk raising too much for any single program. Pick your core initiatives; you don’t have to break it down to cover every single project you have.

5. Specific Amount Tied to Specific Outcome

People like to know what you need and expect.

If you’ve been in the habit of indirectly asking for contributions of an unspecified amount (e.g., “Hope you’ll support us,” or “A gift of any amount will help.”) simply suggest a specific gift amount. For higher-level donors be sure to base this on last year’s gift, and try to include it in the body of the letter or e-appeal. “Will you consider a gift of $1,000 to raise emergency funds for teachers keeping students strong and healthy?” Make sure you don’t send these donors to a donation landing page that has lower amounts than what you’ve asked for. Ideally, create more than one landing page for donors at different levels. The same holds true for your remit piece if the appeal is a mailed letter. 

Place the amount you’ve asked for within a string of appropriate amounts (i.e., use different ask strings for different donor segments; no one size fits all). Also consider:

  • Offering the opportunity to make the gift one-time or monthly.
  • Letting people choose to earmark their gift among several core program initiatives. 
  • Letting people choose to earmark their gift as a tribute in honor or memory of a loved one.
  • Asking if they’d like their gift to remain anonymous. 
  • Asking how they’d like to be recognized. 

Offering such options lets donors know you know them and care about what interests them most. It also honors your donors by helping them know what you expect/need and letting them know you’re happy to adhere to any terms they may have regarding gift acknowledgement and recognition. An added bonus? When you follow through as requested you demonstrate you can be trusted. And trust is the foundation of any lasting relationship.

6. Monthly Giving Promotion

If asking specifically for monthly gift commitments is on your back burner, take it off and move it forward now! 

We know monthly donors renew at a rate of 90% vs. 46% for all donors. It almost seems fundraising malpractice not to have a robust monthly giving program given this data! Just be sure to also build a Donor Love & Loyalty” plan so you connect regularly with these donors who are giving regularly. 

In implementing your program, don’t simply include an option for donors to click on your website. You must be more proactive if you want folks to take notice. Send an appeal specifically targeting recurring gifts and asking donors to join some sort of ‘monthly giving club.’

IMHO the only reason more nonprofits haven’t jumped onto the monthly giving bandwagon is because historically it was a pain-in-the-butt to implement. This is no longer the case. So there’s no good excuse for sticking with your status quo. Most CRMs make it easy to integrate monthly giving into your ongoing annual solicitation strategies, and numerous companies will help you on both the front and back end. In other words, you don’t have to develop the expertise in-house; you can outsource cost-effectively. Monthly giving is one of the best ways to increase both donations and donor retention, and once you’ve put the plan in place it almost runs itself (well, not quite; put someone in charge!). Monthly donors give more and stay longer.

NOTE: Check out these expert monthly giving resources: How to Create Lifelong Donors through Monthly Giving, by Harvey McKinnon; Monthly Giving – The Sleeping Giant by Erica Waasdorp, and Monthly Giving! Not-so-Secret Strategy to Keep Your Nonprofit Afloat Today.

7. Website Home Page

Don’t forget your website is your primary marketing tool.

When folks land there, for whatever reason, you want to make it clear your survival depends on communal support. At a minimum, a big, bold donation button is a must. Better yet is a homepage that tells your story at a glance. Check out Charity: water, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, National Wildlife Federation and Power for Parkinsons. And please make sure there is nothing out of date on your homepage, as nothing destroys confidence in your efficiency and effectiveness faster.

8. Website Donation Landing Pages

Do a homepage and donation landing page audit to optimize your website for donor conversion.

All too often nonprofits spend oodles of time crafting their fundraising appeal, then shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to reeling that gift in. If you hook a fish, but your fishing pole breaks apart as you attempt to land it, you’ve accomplished nothing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve abandoned making a gift because the online interface was too cumbersome or otherwise not user-friendly. 

You can hire a consultant to do this for you (get ideas here), or you can simply enlist a few friends (not co-workers, as they’re likely too ‘inside’) to go through the process of attempting to make a donation. Find out what their user experience is; then make adjustments to improve it.

9. Donor Research

Donors want to know you know them.

This boils down to “Show me that you know me.” In fact, this was a key finding in Penelope Burk’s seminal research on what donors want (vs. what nonprofits may think they want). 

The best way to get to know donors better is to ask them. This seems obvious, but too few nonprofits make it a regular practice to send a donor engagement survey. It’s an excellent tool to learn what floats individual donor’s boats, and also to identify what you are doing right, or wrong, so you can continue to improve!

A survey can, and should, be brief and simple to implement using a tool from your own donor database or CRM or a free tool like Survey Monkey. Make a plan to do this at least annually. It provides useful information for you plus a way for your donor to usefully participate other than giving money. Win/win.

Not every ask you make must be for money.

DIVERSIFY FUNDRAISING CHANNELS

10. Meet Donors Where They Are Now

If you never did much online fundraising before, your future needs to look different. 

Nonprofit Tech for Good surveyed over 700 nonprofits, culminating in 5 Things That Nonprofits Wish They Knew Three Months Ago. What they found was many nonprofits who had previously relied heavily on in-person fundraising said they’re now focusing on a more balanced approach that includes a mix of in-person, virtual and digital fundraising components. 

Use multiple communication channels. 

Consider strengthening and making user-friendly and mobile responsive (1) website donation landing pages and forms; (2) email design and integration with digital providers (i.e., CRM, donor database and/or email service), and (3) social media posts and responses. Advice from survey participants includes:

“Get digital! Although this has been a big hit to our traditional operations, it has granted us the opportunity to strengthen our communications work!”

“We’re establishing a strong social media following and developing a reliable digital marketing plan that ties donors to online giving platforms like our website.” 

The digital revolution has been with us for a while now. You’ve no doubt done something to join this revolution, yet you’ve likely also had making serious improvements in this area on your back burner for a while. The time to get serious is now. 

People – your donors and potential donors — aren’t going backwards.

11. Leverage Events so they’re Not ‘One Offs’ 

Plan ahead to leverage events so you get the biggest bang for your buck.

I’m not talking purely about fundraising events. I’ve seen amazing ‘town halls,’ ‘fireside chats,’ ‘behind-the-scenes tours,’ and even some great entertainment offerings via Zoom or YouTube. If you’re among the many nonprofits who’ve recently hosted a virtual event, congrats! You pivoted and met people where they are. Excellent. However… if your event was not a fundraiser per se, and even if it was, did you plan ahead for event follow-up? Don’t waste all the energy you poured into your digital presentation by failing to reel it back in with a targeted appeal for philanthropic support. The event is the ‘hook.’ As noted above, if you catch a fish and don’t reel it in, what was the point?

The purpose of the follow-up is to directly ask for a gift. 

Yes, I mean it. Entertainment, reporting, bonding, and Q & A time are now over. If you already hosted a virtual event you can definitely go back to the same channel to follow up. Email is an excellent vehicle for the times we’re in. If you don’t have email addresses, use the post office. If you’re planning for a future event, now is the time to incorporate follow-up steps. For example, you could host a Zoom town hall or YouTube presentation; then send a follow-up appeal with links to a recording of what you just hosted. 

If you didn’t have such a plan for your recent virtual event, contact everyone who participated in the event, thank them again, and let them know your organization’s current status. 

Do the same with other supporters on your list who didn’t participate in the event. And create another segment for prospective supporters. With everyone, be transparent about what’s changed, what hasn’t, and where you see your organization moving in the coming months and year. 

Once is not enough; plan ahead to send a series of follow-ups. 

The times we’re in call for you to treat everything like a campaign. A campaign to win hearts and influence minds. Much as you (I hope) send a series of emails and social media posts and direct mail at the end of the calendar year, end of your fiscal year, or even for a particular giving day, so should you send a series whenever you have a fundraising goal to meet. 

Again, it’s because any appeal – including an event — into which you pour your time, energy and resources is a terrible thing to waste. Also keep in mind these days folks are simply overloaded with email. If they don’t open your email within the first 24 hours, they likely never will. So if it hits on a bad day, you’re out of luck. Unless you offer folks a second and third chance to see it.

ACTIVELY CONNECT

12. Put a Donor Love and Loyalty Plan in Place

Include donor bonding in your work plans and job descriptions.

There’s nothing more important if you want to build lifetime value from your donors. One-time transactions won’t sustain your organization over time. And most donors are lost between the first gift and the second (in other words, there is no second gift). 

Call this donor relations, cultivation, stewardship or just good old-fashioned relationship building. Call it whatever you wish, but make sure you do it!

Donor communications aren’t optional; they’re the heart of successful fundraising.

The majority (53%) of reasons donors leave charities have to do with poor communication. Don’t let this happen to you. Download this free worksheet and get started building your written donor loyalty plan.

13. Bond with Your Own Board and Staff Team

You are the leaders who steer your mission towards your vision.

Don’t forget to nurture your human resources. If you aren’t feeling it, no one else will feel it either. The key to fundraising success is passion. You have to (1) connect with your own passion, (2) enact your passion, and (3) ask others to share your passion. It takes a village. Which is why building and fostering a culture of philanthropy is important. If anyone is feeling ignored, slighted, disrespected or oppressed in any way, or you’re not going to succeed as much as you could. Or should.

A philanthropy culture is a giving culture.

It’s a place where you treat internal stakeholders with as much generosity as external ones. Make sure all the folks on your team have opportunities for their own professional development. There are many free online webinars, podcasts and downloadable guides (like this one) you can share with both staff and board members. It’s a great way to get everyone on the same page, and most folks actually enjoy learning new things and developing their skills.

Fundraising is a team sport.

It’s even a good idea to invest a modest amount of money into sharpening skills and/or developing new areas of expertise. In the area of fundraising and marketing you can invest a relatively small amount of funds to hire a consultant (or take an online course) to help you do any number of things, such as (1) train folks to make major gift asks; (2) kick off a monthly giving or peer to peer fundraising program; (3) recharge a stalled campaign; (4) develop a legacy giving program; (5) refresh your website and donation landing pages, or (6) conduct a development or marketing audit.

With board members, take some time to encourage bonding and socialization. 

Even if you can’t meet in person, you can do so virtually. Be transparent about what is going on right now, and how staff are feeling. Ask board members how they’re feeling. See if there is a desire for staff and board to interact, perhaps on some ad hoc task forces to help your organization navigate through the tide of current events. Creativity and insight comes through connection, not thinking by yourself in isolation.

Final Thoughts

Whatever you’re working on right now…

Whatever you’re feeling right now…

Whatever you’re believing, without evidence, right now…

Time to get your bearings so you don’t lose your way amidst the chaos.

The time to make a plan to move forward is NOW.  

Don’t wait until ‘things calm down’ or you’re able to ‘hire extra staff’ or you ‘land a major gift or grant.’ These are just excuses to keep you from doing what you need to do.

You will always find excuses.

No More Excuses.

Use this fundraising strategies checklist to get your sustainable fundraising off the back burner.

  1. FORWARD FACE Equilibrium: Balance your fundraising strategies
  2. FUEL the Machine: Charge your annual contribution income engine
  3. FUMES Provide Accelerant: Prepare for ‘retirement’
  4. FUTURE Proof the Mission: Leave a legacy for generations to come

This fundraising strategies checklist described why you must do these four things, and also offered a baker’s dozen of suggestions of what you can do to take concrete action tips.

You don’t need to do everything.

You do need to do something.

Transformation happens one change at a time.

Nonprofit Sustainability

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.
Claire Axelrad