Growing a nonprofit takes strategy, clarity, and funding.
If you don’t know how to do those things, then you need to be asking lots of questions of yourself and your Board to figure out the best path forward.
Who, where, when, why, how much….. asking to seek knowledge and find ways to generate the revenue your nonprofit needs is a good use of your time.
Questions are a good thing. They help you learn.
When you ask the right question, you can get information you need to make decisions.
But too often, people people ask the wrong questions about growing a nonprofit.
Right fundraising vs wrong fundraising
There’s absolutely a right way and a wrong way to do fundraising, especially if you want to create sustainable, repeatable income for your new, young, or small nonprofit.
The right way to do fundraising includes building a donor base of people who love your cause and will give because they want to help you make a difference in the world.
The wrong way to do fundraising is to focus solely on the money, ignoring the person who decided to give you the funds. You end up holding fundraiser after fundraiser, bringing in money in little dribs and drabs because no one has bought into your cause.
In short, when you focus on the money, you neglect the donor and cut off the possibility of future funding.
It’s like the goose and golden egg: take care of the goose and the golden eggs will keep coming.
So, how can you tell if you’re focused in the wrong place? Notice the questions you’re asking.
Are you asking the wrong questions?
It’s easy when you’re in a pinch to get super-focused on the money and forget about your donors.
Let’s play a game of 20 questions to help you see where you might be focused in the wrong direction and how to make a small adjustment to get you back on track with donor-based fundraising so you can work on growing a nonprofit.
In this game, I’ll show you 10 questions that are off-kilter and for each one, a better question you can ask instead.
Wrong Question #1: “Where can I find rich people to give me money?”
This is a classic example of being too focused on the money. The problem here is the assumption that if people have lots of money, they’ll give it to you. Having money and giving it away are two completely different things. Searching for rich people ends in disappointment.
Better question: “Where do I find the right donors for my nonprofit?”
Instead of looking for rich people, look for the right people. The right people care about the kind of work your nonprofit does and as long as you give them a good experience, they’ll keep giving to help you make a difference in the world. The right people want to be your partners, not your ATM.
Wrong Question #2: “Where do I rent a list of people to send fundraising letters to?”
There’s nothing wrong with renting a list for direct mail acquisition, but if your nonprofit is new or young, and if you have no experience with direct mail, don’t try it. When done without strategy and knowledge of the intricacies of appeals, you’ll waste a lot of money. Unfortunately, people who are looking for a quick cash infusion seem to think they can just rent a list of wealthy people, send a letter, and wait for the cash to flood their mailbox. You probably already know it doesn’t work that way.
Better question: “Where can I find my ideal donors easily and in large numbers?”
Unless you have cash to burn (which I doubt you do), you need cost-effective ways to find new donors. Brainstorm this question to see what you can come up. Most of my clients add ‘speaking to civic clubs and church groups’ to their lists of ways to find new donor prospects easily. It really all depends on your ideal donor prospects and where they’re hanging out.
Wrong Question #3: “How do I get grants?”
Grants are a great way to fund programs and projects and are a part of a healthy, diversely-funded nonprofit. But most foundations want to see 2-3 years of experience under your belt before they’ll consider your nonprofit for a grant. Plus if all you can think about is the grant, you’re too focused on the money. Remember that foundations are donors, too, and their interests matter.
Better question: “Is our nonprofit ready for grants?”
Before you start putting proposals together, you need to be ready for grants. That means having clarity about the impact and outcomes your programs create, a detailed budget for both your organization and your program, and a hot list of foundations that want to fund programs like yours. You wouldn’t try to cook a new recipe without having the right ingredients, so don’t try to go after grants before you’re ready. It’ll be a big mess.
Wrong Question #4: “What event should I hold to raise a lot of money?”
Fundraising events have a place in a healthy nonprofit. You can raise money, make new friends, spread the word, and more. Unfortunately, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer about events. There are lots of different kinds of events that are successful. The key is to do one and do it well. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself on the special event hamster wheel, doing event after event which is exhausting for your team, your donors, and the community.
Better question: “What’s the RIGHT event for my nonprofit?”
Instead of just any old event, figure out what’s right for your nonprofit based on your nonprofit’s strengths, your personal strengths and the resources you have available. Put all your effort into one big event and make it a signature event so that everyone in town knows about it and looks forward to it each year. When that event is over, spend your time focusing on your donors – there’s way more ROI.
Wrong Question #5: “How do I get a ton of followers on Facebook?”
Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to Facebook. It doesn’t matter if you have 40,000 fans on your page if they don’t do anything. You need them to engage in conversation with you, interact with your posts, and share. Only after they take small steps will they take the big steps to volunteer or donate.
Better question: “How do I connect with people on Facebook?”
Instead of thinking about getting MORE people, think about how you can better connect with the ones you already have. If you’re posting once a week, that doesn’t cut it. Social media is meant to be social – that means you need to engage in conversation online. Find out what your folks are interested in and share that. Give them some ‘behind the scenes’ info about how your programs work. Mix it up – tell stories, share photos, post video. The more engaging your content is and the more regularly you post, the more likely people will interact, share, and ultimately take the next steps of getting involved.
Wrong Question #6: “How do I get my Board to give?
One of your Board’s basic responsibilities is to support your nonprofit with a personal financial gift. Yeah, they’re giving their time, but they need to give their treasure, too. Unfortunately, most Board members are recruited without having much knowledge of what their job is, and that leads to confusion and chaos later. If you’re expecting your Board to figure out on their own that they need to give, you’re going to be disappointed.
Better question: “How can I inspire my Board to give?”
Time is more valuable than money these days, so the fact that people volunteer to sit on your Board is awesome. Instead of blame, shame, and guilt, try inspiring your Board to give. Show them first-hand what your nonprofit is making possible. Help them connect emotionally to the outcomes of your program and watch their excitement blossom. Where the heart goes, so goes the wallet. So brainstorm some ways to connect them emotionally with your nonprofit’s work.
Wrong Question #7: “Where can I find new fundraising ideas?”
Everyone thinks they need a new fundraising idea. The truth is that you don’t. What you need is more strategy and commitment for the ideas you already have. There’s no fresh idea out there that will magically generate all the revenue you need.
Better question: “What can I do to attract and keep donors?”
Instead of chasing ideas, go back to basics. What do you need to do to attract new donors and keep them around? Are you doing a good job with donor retention? Are your newsletters and other communications meeting your donors’ needs? Do a better job here and you won’t need a new fundraising idea.
Wrong Question #8: “What’s the best way to hit people up for a donation?”
There’s so much wrong with this question, but let’s look at what’s underneath. Anytime you use the language “hit up,” it indicates negative mindset about money and donors. If you truly care about your donors, have a conversation with them and you’ll see that there’s no need for manipulation or arm twisting. It all starts with valuing the donor over the donation.
Better question: “How do I connect people to our mission?”
If you want people to give, they need to feel connected emotionally to the work your nonprofit is doing. So, brainstorm some ways to link people to your organization’s mission by sharing stories, showing video, and offering tours of the front lines so. folks can see for themselves the amazing work you’re doing.
Wrong Question #9: “What should I give people to get them to give monthly?”
The idea that you need to give someone something in exchange for their donation shows that you believe the donor isn’t getting value from their donation. But they are. It just isn’t tangible. When people give money, they get to feel good about themselves and the world. You don’t owe them a leather bookmark or mug or T-shirt. In fact, when you give people ‘stuff’, they expect ‘stuff’ the next time they give, which is a cycle you don’t want to be part of.
Better question: “How can I effectively communicate our gratitude to our monthly donors?”
Monthly donors are the most loyal donors you have. The best thing you can do is communicate regularly to help them feel engaged. When they feel like part of the team, they’ll keep giving. Get creative with ways to thank them. Share videos of your programs in action. Tell stories that show how their monthly contributions are making a difference.
Wrong Question #10: “What’s the best way to get people to give big donations for the tax write-off?”
The big assumption here is that the only reason people give is for the tax benefit and that isn’t always the case. There may be several other reasons why people give, including wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves or changing lives for the better. Yes, you need to provide donors with receipts for tax purposes but understand that every donor is different and they all have their own reasons for giving.
Better question: “What’s the best way to connect donors with the part of our mission that touches their heart?”
When you take the time to get to know your donors, you find out what sets their heart on fire about your nonprofit’s programs. Through personal conversations, surveys, and social media interaction, you can learn a lot about what they’re most interested in. That’s when you can match their interests with your needs, resulting in a large donation.
So, did you play along? Which of the 10 wrong questions are you asking (or have you asked lately)? Which ones do you need to move to a better question.
Changing your thinking, even just slightly, can have a huge impact on your fundraising totals, which means you can change more lives.
And that’s why we’re here.