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Low-cost, high-impact fundraising ideas

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If we could fit our advice on a bumper sticker, it would be: Don’t take your foot off the fundraising gas pedal! Continue to identify high-impact prospects, tell your moving stories, nurture relationships, thank donors profusely, and most importantly, continue to ask for gifts without fear, anxiety, or hesitation. Your noble missions and the stakeholders you serve deserve no less.

Here’s the good news: American philanthropy is resilient and remains robust. The number one predictor of philanthropy is the stock market, which has held up amazingly well. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) reports charitable giving increased by almost 7.5 percent over the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019. A big driver of this remarkable story is a 19.2 percent increase in smaller donations (less than $250) in the 2nd quarter. This is a vivid reminder that the American people are generous even in tough times. FEP points to increases across almost every category they measure, including overall donor retention, recaptured donors, and gifts of all sizes—which is absolutely stunning given the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on planned fundraising activities.

Over the last several months, Eskin Fundraising Training webinars have been fortunate to benefit from the wisdom of experts across a wide range of fields influencing the success of nonprofits, including major gifts, annual funds, legacy giving, capital campaigns, board recruitment, marketing, communications, and financial management.

While there is no magical formula for high-impact success, here is a summary of the 10 steps that nonprofits from all different sectors and of all sizes—especially smaller and mid-size organizations—can afford and should implement to the extent possible.

Step one: If you don’t have one, establish a monthly giving program, and if you have one, ramp it up to its full potential.

Erica Waasdorp, author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, says that monthly giving works well for all organizations. She points out that the retention rate for monthly giving is twice as high as it is for annual donors, and that monthly donors are six times more likely to include your nonprofit in their estate plans.

Step two: Make it a daily habit to mail a handwritten note to a donor.

It will stand out, and you will be remembered for doing so. The average person receives 121 emails a day, so your handwritten note will likely be the only one they receive that day, or even in a month.

Step three: Take advantage of mobile and other devices, as they can provide amazing video results.

Send donors and prospects a high-impact two-minute video on the impact of their gift.

Step four: Transition all of your fundraising events online, unless you’ve already done so.

Virtual events are scoring impressive revenue results. The major reason is that costs are held to a minimum. Donors don’t go to these events to enjoy the rubber chicken; they support them to champion the causes they believe in. Successful virtual events are those in which donors only receive a brief video update, which they can review at their convenience.

Step five: Have your board members make thank you calls to donors.

It’s fine if they end up leaving a voicemail. Donors appreciate being thanked by leaders of your organization. Widely-respected researcher Penelope Burk calls this one of the highest return stewardship tactics.

Step six: Make giving through donor-advised funds (DAFs) visible on your websites and other communication vehicles.

This is clearly the most dynamic component of American philanthropy. DAF gifts are exploding this year. And there is plenty more potential, with more than an estimated $120 billion residing in these accounts.

Step seven: Seek out nonprofit collaborations.

This is a time for sector collaboration. Nonprofits who share related missions should seriously consider making a joint request of high-impact funders, which will increase the likelihood of favorable responses.

Step eight: Remind repeat donors of three years or more of their planned giving options.

These can include charitable bequests, retirement plans, and life insurance policies that provide tax-friendly options to extend giving impact while postponing any out-of-pocket expenditure.

Step nine: Don’t overlook the power of personal touches to brighten the day of your donors.

For example, I love the way a development officer is leaving homemade chocolate chip cookies at the doors of donors.

Step ten: Turn up the volume on your end-of-year appeals.

Historically, close to one third of annual gifts are made in December. Research by RKD Group shows donors are ready to respond strongly in 2020. One of my favorite mentors, Laura Fredricks, aptly known as The Expert on the Ask, said during the 2020 Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) San Antonio Regional Virtual Conference that high wealth individuals are losing control of how they can spend their money, with travel, entertainment, and other luxuries being curtailed by the pandemic. But philanthropy stands out as a shining way they can direct their wealth to advance good purposes at a time of profound need.

No doubt there are many other ideas that nonprofits can and should consider to secure high-impact grants and gifts. This is a time for commitment, consistency, and creativity in mixing high tech and high touch activities. As the late great poet Maya Angelou said, “People will not remember what you said, they won’t even remember what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Our job in fundraising is to make our donors and prospects feel like they are the most important people in the world to our good causes.

If you missed my earlier Candid Learning blog post on 10 truths that can help nonprofit leaders move their fundraising efforts forward during this difficult time, I encourage you to read it here. In the months to come, Eskin Fundraising Training webinars will be addressing role-playing virtual asks, elevator speeches, financial fitness, and securing news coverage. By signing up for our free monthly email newsletter, you will receive invitations to these free webinars and be able to join our learning community.


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