NCFY Reports

Squeeze Thy Neighbors

You’re between Federal grants. You need a new van. The roof is leaking. Cultivating private donors is an excellent way to create some financial flexibility for your organization in both good and bad times. Remember, 70 percent of Americans give to nonprofit organizations each year, and they give big: The median is $2,000.

For some advice on how to expand your private donor base, NCFY spoke to fundraising consultant Andy Robinson and Chris Baca and Tricia Hiser of Youth Development, Inc. (YDI), a Runaway and Homeless Youth grantee in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Be patient. When YDI began working to expand their donor base, they developed a 5-year plan that only really started paying off in the third year. “Perseverance pays huge dividends,” Baca says. “You’re in it for the long haul.”

Make fundraising part of your culture. The most effective organizations encourage all of their employees to fundraise. “People have this fake barrier in their brain where the program work is on one side and the fundraising is on the other,” Robinson said. He says that while CEOs or executive directors should devote at least 30 to 50 percent of their time to raising money, everybody in the organization should be pitching in. Ask board members, for example, to make a donation as part of their board service, or ask them to raise money from folks they know.

Clip art of people meeting at a round table.Start small. To build confidence, consider a small, short-term fundraising drive. Dedicate 6 weeks to raising $1,500 for a garden or $10,000 for a computer room.

Determine your level of engagement. Depending how much time and energy your staff can devote to fundraising, you can start by just sending letters or e-mail. If you have more time, consider making follow up phone calls. For the greatest impact, though, you need to meet with people face to face. Donors give 5 to 10 times more to someone sitting in their living room.

Stay close to home. Your best donors are likely already programmed in the cell phones of your staff. Encourage everyone in your organization to pick 10 to 15 people off their contact lists and start dialing. Similarly, folks who volunteer their time at your agency clearly care about your mission. If they haven’t donated money yet, they may just need to be asked. Or they may be able to provide a donation in-kind. (See our article on in-kind donations.) Though you should never make volunteers feel like giving their time is not enough, often, volunteers grow into reliable donors.

Study the faith model. Religious organizations have deep relationships with their constituents, which makes it easy to ask for support and ask often. They also don’t discriminate between the rich and the poor. “Poor people give a higher percentage of their income than the wealthy do,” Robinson says. “The first thing you have to do if you are going to be successful is stop assuming scarcity and start assuming abundance.”

Teach your staff to tell your story. “You can’t ask people to make donations if they don’t understand you,” Hiser says. And the best way to help people understand you is through an emotional connection. Explain why you are proud of what you do. Focus on what makes you unique. Talk personally about the young people you serve. Set up a “story bank” so that compelling anecdotes are saved and retold frequently.

Break out the hors d’oeuvres. Take a page from the political playbook and consider holding private house parties. Whether a barbecue, brunch, or sit down meal, the classic model includes 40 minutes of eating and chatting, a short presentation about the organization, and a quick pitch. The whole event lasts 2 hours and takes less than 6 weeks to organize.

Say thank you. Show appreciation to donors in various ways and keep them apprised of how the project they donated to (or the whole organization, if they gave an undesignated gift) is faring. That way, they'll feel appreciated and be willing to give money to you again.

Stay fresh. There are plenty of great ideas about private fundraising on the Internet. Here’s one good place to start.

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