Right on the Money: Five Keys to Fundraising Success

photograph of a young person holding up five fingers

When it comes to fundraising, Boys & Girls Clubs of America nears the top of the list. The national youth-serving organization in Atlanta, with more than 4,000 independently run locations across the country, stood at 15 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Philanthropy 400” last fall. The annual ranking tracks the U.S. nonprofit organizations that raise the most money from private sources, including individuals, corporations and foundations.

BGCA and its affiliates raised more than $624 million in private funding in 2009. While that sum may seem mind-boggling to some youth-serving organizations, BGCA’s work to support its affiliates’ fundraising has taught Cyndi Court, executive vice president for development and marketing, that size is irrelevant.

“The keys to fundraising success are the same for any organization,” she says.

No matter the size of your operation, here are five key elements Court says will boost your fundraising:

1. Tenacious fundraising staff. Look for people with initiative who will actively seek donors and build relationships within your community. Good fundraisers should be able to articulate your mission clearly and should not be afraid to ask for the contributions your organization needs.

If you can’t afford to hire a fundraiser, the best person for the job is the chief executive or executive director, Court says.  “They tend to have the most knowledge about the organization, they tend to have the most passion, and they tend to engender respect in the community.”

2. A strong board. Enthusiastic board members “are some of the best partners for fundraising staff,” Court says. “They have peer-to-peer relations with potential donors, they’re critical in opening up doors and introducing people to the organization, they’re terrific in recruiting other people as volunteers and they’re key to making solicitations.” That last point, she says, is because people are more likely to give money if asked by a good friend or respected peer.

3. Strong fundraising operations. By this Court means two things: First, a good donor database with which you can keep track of how much people have given in the past, the events or meetings they’ve attended and their history of volunteering . Such a system enables you to thank donors in a timely way and to think about what steps you might take to build your relationship with them. But don’t just use an Excel spreadsheet, she says. Instead, look into free or low-cost software.

Court also recommends doing research on donors and those who might be persuaded to donate (both individuals and institutions), so that you can learn about their interests, priorities and passions, as well as their ability to give. Read NCFY’s article about conducting research on foundations.

4. Good fundraising strategies. Don’t think you’ll just happen into a windfall. Instead, set fundraising goals and make a plan for how you will meet them. Strategies might include an annual campaign, special events, or a capital campaign to raise a specific amount of money over a period of several years.

5. A strong case for support. Lay your case out in a document (it doesn’t have to be very long) that answers the following questions: What is the need your organization aims to meet? What’s your vision for meeting the need? What will your impact be? What’s your plan for showing that impact? The case for support will guide your fundraisers (both paid and volunteer) as they ask people for donations, and will ensure that potential donors hear the strongest argument for why they should give to your cause.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Philanthropy 400

9-5 pm Eastern