fundraising methods

It’s a horrible feeling when the tried-and-true fundraising methods that have worked in the past stop working.

Maybe you’ve experienced this…

…your spring campaign that you thought would bring in $5,000 only brings in $1,200…

…or the fundraising letter you hoped would generate $7,000 barely nets $3,000…

…or your online fundraiser barely brings in $2,500 when you were counting on at least $4,000.

It’s time to ask some hard questions.

What the heck is going on?

Lower-than-expected numbers make you feel like you failed, like you put your organization and the people you serve at risk.

But look, it’s not you.

Even experienced fundraisers sometimes use fundraising methods that just don’t work for a particular organization or audience.

Right now, we’re seeing lots of lackluster results from a variety of causes in a variety of areas.

Worries about the economy and rising gas prices can cause people to pull back on their giving.

Sometimes, fundraising methods that worked in previous years don’t work as well when the economy shifts or a big news event pulls people’s attention away.

You have to put feelings of failure aside and focus on figuring out what went wrong and how you can make up lost ground.

Evaluating your shortfalls can be hard because often, when you’re smack dab in the middle of a nonprofit, you can’t be objective. You can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re the hairdresser trying to cut her own hair. You just don’t have the perspective you need to clearly see what’s going on.

In my experience, one or more of these factors is usually at play when fundraising falls flat:

  • Your timing is off. Maybe you just asked people to buy tickets to your big event or participate in your online auction then two weeks later sent out an appeal asking for money. That’s too many Asks in a short period of time which can cause the appeal to fall flat. Or maybe you sent your mailing out at a time when people are distracted with something else like vacations or elections or major holidays.
  • You’re so focused on the money that you’ve forgotten about your donors. Between feeling desperate for money and your To Do list being a mile long, you’re counting the dollars that come in but forgetting to give donors a great experience. They’re underwhelmed by your response to their last donation and they’re already looking for somewhere else to give.
  • You’re trying every fundraising strategy out there, running from one thing to the next. Instead of digging deep into a winning strategy and giving it your full attention from planning through execution, you’re skimming through lots of different things hoping something will work.

Here’s what’s really going on: You’re too focused on money.

What? What is fundraising about if it’s not about money?

Fundraising is about relationships. 

You are on the right track with a lot of solid, proven ways to raise money, but you are focusing on the money and not the donor.

Your donors are human beings with feelings, and you have to ignite feelings of compassion, concern, satisfaction, and even joy if you want them to stick around and keep giving. 

You see, giving is an emotional act. It ignites feelings of joy and satisfaction which most people don’t get much of in their day-to-day lives.

When you give donors an amazing experience, they want to stick around and give again.

When you execute fundraising methods, of course you are trying to get people to give your organization money. But what you really want is to help people feel good. This is how you get donors who keep giving.

How Do I Make Sure My Donors Feel Good About Donating? 

Let’s back up and look at your methods of fundraising through the eyes of your donor. What do you see? What’s the experience like for a donor to give to your nonprofit?

  • Are you sharing heartwarming stories that stir their heart and soul, moving them to donate?
  • Do you explain how their donation will make a difference, making them the hero?
  • Are your communications going two ways? Do you make it easy for them to contact you by putting your email address and phone number in plain sight? In fact, do you openly invite their questions?
  • Do you make it easy to donate to your nonprofit?
  • Do you thank your donor immediately in a warm and sincere way that touches their heart?
  • Do you provide follow up after they donate to let them know what happened to their donation?

Just from reading those questions, you probably already know what you need to fix.

This isn’t hard, but it does take a little time and thought to create a wonderful donor experience.

Ask yourself what you can do to make sure donors feel good about their gift to your nonprofit. Build trust at every turn by learning their name and a little about them and by following up on their gift with news about how you put their money to great use.

Don’t give your donor any reason to feel dissatisfied with you or your organization. It is so hard to get a donor back once you have left a bad impression.

Evaluate Your Donor Communications: Why Didn’t This Fundraising Method Work?

Let’s look at donor communications one at a time and see if you can figure out why a particular fundraising method didn’t connect with donors and inspire them to give.

Email Marketing 

When your email marketing campaign flops, you can easily look up analytics. And you can incorporate fresh strategies in your next email. With a little time and focus, you can become an expert at email marketing.

Here are some things to look at when examining why your email did not bring in as much money as you expected:

  • Look at the open rate of your most recent email. Was it at least 35%? If you can’t even get a third of your subscribers to open your email, you need to work on your subject lines. You may also need to clean up your list and archive people who haven’t responded to anything in two or three years.
  • Look at the click-through rate of your most recent email. Was it at least 5%? If you can’t inspire at least 5% of the people who open your email to click through and donate, you need to make some changes.
  • Was the story you told in this email powerful enough? Did the story have a strong accompanying photo or video?
  • Did you bog your email down in boring “news” about your Board treasurer’s retirement or your trip to a conference? Did you clutter your email with event news about partner organizations and other irrelevant content? Did you just repeat the same messaging over and over? Did you spend too much time thanking people before you made the Ask?
  • Did you ASK for money? Was your Ask clear and straightforward? Did you specify what you need money for?

There are some other nuances to email marketing such as the time of day you send the email, which day of the week, and who the email comes from. Your email tool can help you clarify the best day and time to send the email and sending it from a person always gets better results that sending it from an organization, which is too impersonal.

The wonderful thing about email marketing is you can do A/B testing. If you want to test whether your emails perform better when sent on Sunday night or Tuesday morning, send half on Sunday and half on Tuesday and see for yourself.

Another thing to consider is are you sending too many emails? Or are you sending too few emails? Are you asking your donors for money all the time, wearing them out with endless requests?

Or maybe your emails are too long and dry. Or maybe your subject lines are boring. If you’re guilty of throwing something together and clicking “send” just so you can mark it off your list, you’re probably sending boring emails… which trains your audience to stop reading them!

By carefully planning your email marketing, you can make sure you have the right mix of Asks and feel-good pieces, all sent at the right time with subject lines that intrigue people.


When you send an appeal through the mail, you incur a significant expense, and that makes it really painful when the letter doesn’t bring in as much money as you expect. Let’s take a look:

  • Do you start with a compelling story that conveys the urgency of your organization’s work? You need a story that focuses on the problem you are working to solve and touches the hearts of your donors.
  • Does the letter have a powerful image that draws you in? You need a strong photo, preferably of a person or animal looking directly into the camera. If the reader can’t connect with the eyes of the person or animal in the photo, it’s a bad photo. Remember, giving is an emotional act and the right photo can provide plenty of emotion.
  • Is the tone all wrong with a letter that’s too upbeat? Your appeal letter is not where you share your organization’s good news! It is where you let your supporters know there is suffering going on and that they can help alleviate that suffering by giving. Save celebratory news for social media and your newsletter.
  • Is the letter full of jargon? Think about telling a friend over coffee about the work your organization does. This friend does not work in your field, so you naturally avoid industry jargon. This is how you want to write your letter. Keep it conversational so people can easily read and understand it.
  • Did you make it easy to give via the mail and online? Include an envelope and a QR code as well as your website url, so people can give with a check sent through the mail or give online if they’d rather. Suggest a deadline for when people should give to create a sense of urgency (people respond well to deadlines!).

This is also a fundraising method that consistently works when done correctly. Your appeal gives your longtime, loyal donors a reminder to give again. It reminds them how much they love the work that your organization does and want to be part of it.

Social Media  

Was your social media campaign once your best fundraiser? Social media campaigns are getting harder as nonprofits continue getting squeezed by Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm. Many of your supporters are simply not seeing your posts! You really need to do social media the right way to get results.

Let’s examine the lead-up to your campaign and the campaign itself:

  • Do you water your social media garden regularly? You need to have fresh, consistent, varied content to hold the interest of your followers.
  • Do you frequently share news without asking for money? Social media is a wonderful place to share program news, thank corporate and foundation partners, honor volunteers, and communicate in all the ways that don’t include an Ask. This gives your supporters the feeling that they are in the trenches with you and not just walking ATMs.
  • Did you design your campaign around a specific need? Social media campaigns work best when you have a particular need, like a washer and dryer or a vehicle. You can also frame your Ask around eliminating a waiting list.
  • Did you choose a compelling story with the right image, illustration, or video? Make sure you choose a story you can effectively tell through social media.
  • Did you use all the tools social media has to offer, including Facebook’s fundraising tools, Facebook and Instagram Live, Reels, and Stories? Pull out all the stops for your fundraising campaign to give it the greatest chance of success.

It’s hard to make time for social media, but it’s critical to do so if you expect your campaigns to flourish. Many of your supporters are on social media, and you have to go where your supporters are to ask them for donations!

Light a Fire Under Your Next Campaign

Now that you have evaluated your use of each tool, here are some fundraising methods for supercharging your next campaign:

  • Pull together a matching gift. This is a no-fail fundraising idea for getting results. Tell donors their gift will be matched and more people will give.
  • Infuse the campaign with a sense of urgency. We need money NOW. Language about your annual campaign or broad fundraising goals won’t cut it. You need to tell donors you need their money right now to meet a critical need.
  • Include a testimonial from someone whose life has been changed by your organization. Of all the stories you can tell, the testimonial is the most effective for a campaign.
  • Make the right Ask. Do not ask for general operational support. Seek funding for very specific needs, such as heartworm prevention medicine for dogs in your care or laptop computers and internet access for families in your education-focused program. If you are an animal rescue organization, try asking from the animal’s point of view.
  • Imitate a campaign that was successful. Study your most successful campaign and do everything you can to make history repeat. I am often taken aback by how successful super simple and direct campaigns can be. If simple and direct has worked in the past, set the stage for the magic to happen again.

Make Up the Shortfall

If you are running behind because your fundraising methods fell flat, don’t just wait until the holiday season and assume the end-of-year goodwill will save you.

Instead put some fundraising ideas on your calendar for the next few months. To raise more, do more!

  • Add a campaign. Is there an empty stretch in the coming months where you could add a campaign? Don’t force one if you already have a full calendar, but sometimes the opportunity is there for an additional campaign.

  • Add an event or a few casual events. Can you put a wine and cheese event on the calendar? How about a house gathering at the home of your Board chair? Don’t try to pull off a signature event at the last minute, but a few casual events will bring in new donors and gifts.

  • Research new grant opportunities. If you already have some grant opportunities on your calendar, see if you can find two or three more that look promising.

  • Expand your speaking schedule. Get out there a little more and speak to groups of your Ideal Donor Prospects. Speak to a few more Rotary Clubs. See if you can get on with a local book club, a Bible study, and a community service club.

  • Up your major gifts game. Go through your donor list AGAIN and see who might be ready to make a bigger gift. Schedule three in-person coffee meetings with donors and carve out time to get to know them.

  • Pitch a story to your local media. Think about how you can frame your organization’s work in a way that would make a great news story. Then pitch it to local media outlets. What have you got to lose?

These are just some of the ways you can add more fundraising methods to your calendar and bring in more money. Make a list of all your ideas for fundraisers and pick a few to try. Look for the ones that will deliver the biggest dollar amounts for the least amount of work.

The Bottom Line

methods of fundraisingWhen your fundraising falters, it’s easy to get discouraged. But what you need to do is get motivated. Dig deep and find even more determination.

By closely examining your fundraising methods, you can find areas for improvement and get motivated to make some simple, effective changes.

Focus on the time you have remaining in the year to turn your fundraising around by focusing on your donor’s needs. By making your donors feel amazing about giving to your organization, you will bring in more money and get your fundraising back on track. Then you will be the one feeling amazing!