We get it. Year after year, it can feel like your fundraising efforts have you tapping the same well, and you might be worried you’ll exhaust your supporters.
People will be solicited for donations countless times over the course of a year. The best fundraisers and development experts know that despite this statistic, you can still have a highly successful fundraiser if you commit to combating exhaustion with inspiration. Many expert fundraisers achieve this through the model of the “gift cycle.”
The gift cycle or “donor lifecycle” essentially describes the relationship between fundraiser and donor or customer, and refers to the process of informing donors about your mission; making “the ask”; communicating results; expressing gratitude; and then returning later for renewed commitment.
The key is cultivating relationships with those who support your community organization by closing the gap between buying a fundraising product and the impact that these contributions will make.
To help maximize retention, consider cultivate a mission, communicate impact, and express gratitude every step of the way.
Successful Fundraising Strategies Are Mission-Driven
In the nonprofit world, charity: water is a young organization. Nevertheless, they’ve quickly risen to popularity because of innovative marketing and a clear, compelling mission: “Our mission is to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.” It takes all of 15 seconds to describe what this global nonprofit does with their fundraising dollars.
Local community fundraisers can still have a compelling mission behind them. Whether you’re selling a tangible good to raise money or going for a pure ask, you can help others understand why your group is fundraising by articulating a mission that is based in a broader context.
Is your elementary school raising funds to purchase much needed school supplies? Look downstream and share what this will do to make an impact that is sustainable. Filling the funding gap for supplies isn’t just about having pencils and crayons. Consider framing it as “Meeting the needs of all students and teachers, so that our community has the tools for academic success.”
Mission statements that address “systemic change” are powerful, and help people see the difference their purchase can make. Framing your message this way is the first step in engaging your community in long-term fundraising support.
Successful Fundraising Strategies Communicate Impact
A mission-driven fundraiser will naturally create the opportunity to fulfil this mission, and doing so is a valuable way to turn a one-time donor into a long-time supporter.
It’s no secret that people are more willing to give if they know where their money is going. Information accessibility has made fundraising transparency at any level all the more critical.
Nonprofits and community organizations have often mastered “the ask”, but have forgotten to continue their donor stewardship by closing the loop and sharing their success. This approach, however, is inherently fundraiser-centric, neglecting the relationship fostered between a community and the causes it supports.
Combat this with storytelling. “Storytelling” has been a buzzword in the new media age, and it’s permeating every industry—especially those that rely on emotional connections for success. Whether you’re purchasing a consumer good or choosing a bank, it’s the element of transformation in quality of life that people connect with.
Give detail. How many pairs of scissors did you buy, how much money did that save teachers, and what lesson plans were created because a donor purchased some flowers and candy? These kinds of connections are how storytelling works as a powerful tool that makes donors feel engaged with your cause.
Alyce Lee Stansbury, a professional fundraising consultant lauded by school districts, stresses that “Donors respond to urgent human needs, not organizational needs. Start telling your best story and people will respond.”
Successful Fundraising Strategies Express Gratitude
Successful fundraising at all levels is punctuated by expressions of gratitude. One local United Way CEO regularly reminded her staff that donors must be thanked seven times before they feel genuinely appreciated, a rule borrowed from an age-old cross-cultural custom that fundraising consultant Janet Hedrick explores in “Effective Donor Relations.”
Hedrick suggests that a fundraiser should consider thanking a donor multiple times in multiple ways, and while your capacity for continued outreach to donors may be limited by organizational codes, it never hurts to leave an expression of gratitude at their doorstep after the campaign has ended, or upon delivering a purchased product.
When thanking someone who participated in your fundraiser, keep these guides in mind:
- Use donor-centric language, and remember that “you messages” communicate gratitude better than “we messages.”
- Begin and end your oral or written communication with a “thank you.”
- Provide a timely thank you to avoid making donors feel like an afterthought.
- If your program or mission is on-going, keep donors or customers informed about recent developments. A donor who never grows cold never has to be resold!
Mapping out your donor cultivation strategy, and continuing to engage them in your impact even when you’re not fundraising can lead to increasingly successful campaigns year over year—something particularly important in lower-ask fundraisers and brochure fundraisers where prices are set. In these situations, the volume of donors matters, because it’s less likely that donors will make a higher outright contribution.