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Winning YMCA Fundraising Campaigns

10 Steps to Plan a Nonprofit Fundraising Auction
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A lot of fundraisers will tell you, “Fundraising is different for my organization.” Most of them are wrong.  Unless you work for a YMCA, in which case you’re 100% right!

5 ways fundraising is different for YMCAs

1. YMCAs typically launch one annual appeal a year

Many nonprofits send fundraising appeals every month, every other month, or at least once a quarter in addition to days of giving, GivingTuesday, and year end.

However for most YMCAs, the fundraising ask comes once a year during the annual appeal. That doesn’t mean that’s the only time they invite donors to give, since YMCAs may also participate in the YMCA Day of Giving, GivingTuesday, end-of-year fundraising, or a capital campaign. But the YMCA model is still very different than other nonprofits.

2. Many YMCA donors are also members

This presents an extra challenge to YMCAs. If a member isn’t happy with their customer experience as a client, they may be less likely to give.

3. YMCAs often lack fundraising systems and tools

Because YMCAs are, first and foremost, membership organizations, their software may be limited to just a membership platform. It’s very difficult to manage fundraising without the proper fundraising resources, like a sophisticated donor database that enables YMCAs to create fundraising campaigns and online donation forms, and (even better) can offer predictive giving insights to reveal philanthropically-minded high-net-worth members that they can cultivate and solicit.

4. They may not have a culture of philanthropy

As a membership organization that derives a significant portion of their operating budget from dues, many YMCAs lack a robust culture of philanthropy. Development staff may feel very siloed from program and operational staff. Since they aren’t 100% reliant on donations as their sole source of income, YMCA executive and board leadership may not embrace fundraising, relationship building, and a culture of gratitude as much as typical nonprofits might. Worst case, executive and board leadership may look at fundraising as something they “have to do once a year for the annual campaign.”

5. Stewardship may be an afterthought

With a full calendar of daily events and programs for members—and at a bare minimum, a single annual fundraising campaign—it’s easy to see how stewarding donors and keeping them engaged on the impact of their donations throughout the year can easily fall through the cracks. This is one area where YMCAs are like a lot of nonprofits — stewardship can be viewed as a “nice to have” or at worst, a cost center. But if you only send out one annual campaign you have to make donors feel connected to your cause year round and ensure your donors feel special and know their gift had a meaningful impact.

How can your Y make the most out of stewardship?

Here are some of the very best YMCA stewardship examples to inspire your Y so you can boost your donors’ giving and loyalty.

First-time donor welcome postcard – YMCA of Northwest North Carolina


YMCA Fundraising Campaigns

YMCA Fundraising Campaigns
Why is it so important to make your first-time donors feel recognized, valued, and appreciated? Because according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, only 19% of first-time donors will give a second gift. That’s just two out of ten.

To put this another way, 81% of first-time donors won’t give to your YMCA again.

But, if you can get them to give a second gift, a whopping 63% will give again. Meaning, get that second gift and sx in ten will give again.

If you consider your fundraising return on investment (ROI), retaining your donors is infinitely more cost effective than going out and finding new ones since acquisition costs ten times more than communicating with your existing donors.

The greatest gift we can give our donors is the gift of being known by us; this is why special communication acknowledging a first-time gift is so important.

After they’ve made their first gift and you’ve thanked them properly, it’s time to build their engagement.

Engagement campaign: What’s your Y story?

The better a donor’s engagement, the higher their retention.

Ask any member, and they’ll tell you their Y story. It could be a childhood memory of their first swimming lesson. That memory could take them back to the sounds of the lifeguard blowing their whistle, or the smells of the pool’s chlorine, or even how far away the water looked when they stood on the diving board for their very first dive. Maybe it’s a caring staff member they remember who helped them set goals and build confidence.

Consider how you can invite members to share their Y story with easy story prompts they can submit online, like this example from the Indy YMCA.

Thank members for their submissions and consider a mission-related prize or giveaway.

Don’t forget to add their submission to their record in your donor database software. That information is an important part of being able to upgrade their giving. If you don’t have a donor database, Bloomerang is a donor database solution that measures donor engagement for you.

Staying top of mind with a donor thank-you bookmark: YMCA of Three Rivers

This bookmark is an inexpensive way to stay top of mind with your donors. It has a lovely gratitude message on the front and their mission on the back, along with the philanthropy team’s contact information and a QR code to donate.

If you’ve ever felt a little ‘different’ fundraising at your Y, it’s because Ys are uniquely special. If you, like many Ys across the country, are only soliciting gifts once a year during your annual campaign, consider how you might implement a first-time donor welcome packet, engagement campaigns, and stewardship ideas like the examples shown here.

Have winning YMCA fundraising campaigns you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments!  

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