Three Fundraising Pros Share Their Tips for Nonprofits of Every Size

At Nonprofit Hub, we root for organizations of all sizes. Whether you’re the little guy in a basement working on a dream or a well established NPO, we’re here for you. Being a startup ourselves, we understand the challenges of fundraising as a small organization. But we’ve also worked with nationally-known, well-established NPOs who face challenges in the fundraising.

I asked a few of the top professional fundraisers for their best fundraising tips for startup nonprofits, medium organization and/or large NPOs. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Jeff Giddens of NextAfter

Jeff would give the same three recommendations for organizations at each level, since he’s seen these tips work for startups to powerhouse nonprofits.

Forget about “big data”—pay attention to your small data.

“Big data is great, and holds a lot of promise — but chances are, your nonprofit isn’t able to harness the true power of it yet. Instead, focus on the metrics that affect revenue. For online fundraising, there are only three: traffic, conversion rate and average gift. Each one of these has an identical (and powerful) effect on revenue. Grow traffic by 25% while keeping your conversion rate and average gift steady and watch revenue grow. Or, convert more of your traffic (or inspire them to give more generously) and watch revenue grow. Google Analytics gives you lots of metrics to watch — but there are only three that directly contribute to revenue.”

“Check out NextAfter’s free tool that will generate a report of how your nonprofit stacks up against industry benchmarks in these three areas (traffic, conversion rate, average gift).”

Want to increase fundraising results? Work on your value proposition.

“Fundraising is so close to marketing that it can be hard to tell the two apart. The essence of marketing is the message, and the essence of the message is the value proposition. Your organization’s value proposition answers the question: “Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or not at all?” How clearly you are able to answer this question is directly correlated to your fundraising results. We’ve surveyed CEOs who answer this question less effectively than their secretaries. Including an “only statement,” which highlights exclusivity, can be a powerful tool. Lots of organizations wonder why they send tons of direct mail and email and get dismal results — it’s most likely because the value proposition is weak.“

“If you want to link to something, here’s a cool case study about the tremendous effect of clarifying the value proposition.”

Question every “best practice” through testing and optimization.

“To quote Flint McLaughlin of MECLABS, “many times, best practices are nothing more than pooled ignorance.” Someone else is doing awesome P2P campaigns? Great! Test it. The Obama campaign does a four-step giving form? Great! Test it. Some other organization only asks for recurring gifts? Great! Test that too. There are plenty of “expert marketers” — but it is worth much more to be an experienced tester. When your boss forwards you an article with some wild fundraising strategy, test it and let data be your diplomat. Opinions are a dime a dozen — numbers are hard to argue with.”

2. Devon Reeser from Fundraising IP

Devon advises small nonprofits to:

“Figure out if their services are really needed before they form an organization. I’ve been working with too many start ups that would have been better off selling their project idea to an established partner organization instead of having their own 501(c)(3). Ego gets in the way of achieving goals, and it is a costly mistake to them. Track records have become almost a requisite for funding, so unless they have a generous board member or backer supporting their start up costs, they are going to have trouble.”

3. Fundraising Coach Marc A. Pitman

Marc has three pieces of advice he’d like to share

Nonprofit organizations just starting out:

“Start building support – fundraising and volunteer – before you think you’re ready. Even if you can’t yet process credit cards, figure out what gift levels you need and start getting commitments. Some people love being on the ground floor. So share your story, your process and your impact on social media, building your email list, and in personal visits. There isn’t any “magic Rolodex” of donors pining away trying to figure out where to give their money. You need to do the hard work of earning the right to be heard.”

“And as you’re starting out, come to grips with the fact that fundraising is a core part of your existence. It’s not a “necessary evil.” It’s not something that should be relegated to one position or department. Write fundraising into each job description. Everyone has stake in seeing the nonprofit well funded so allow them to participate in the process. It’s much easier to bake this expectation into the system now than to try to put it in later. And it unleashes the creativity of everyone on your team, making your fundraising efforts stand out from the crowd of nonprofits clamoring for attention.”

Medium-sized nonprofit organizations:

“Don’t succumb to the “get rich quick” promises of crowdfunding or that special grant opportunity. Recommit to the hard, boring work of creating a solid fundraising plan and executing the plan. The “magic” of fundraising is in the basics. It’s in the boring process of calling a fourth, fifth, and even sixth time to get an appointment. Of going over your assignments yet again to make sure you know where everyone is at in the process.”

“Just like NBA basketball players still need to do layups, we fundraisers still need to make the basic steps that bring in the money.”

Larger nonprofit organizations:

“…Whether it’s enterprise data solutions like StartusLIVE or regular meetings to review prospects, make sure you’re treating donors as complete individuals. Donors just see your organization, not the separate departments. Certainly not any turf wars you have. So show them the respect of seeing them as human beings, not ATMs. And let this impact what you say to them in your meetings and communications.”

Thanks to all of these awesome fundraisers who made this article compilation possible. (Can we get a virtual round of applause please?)

Any amazing fundraising tips that you’ve received that we missed? Feel free to shoot an email my way or let me know in the comments below.


Kathryn Pauley

Kathryn is a regular contributor to the Nonprofit Hub. Soon to be college graduate, she enjoys helping nonprofits understand better how to reach the millennial demographic—cause we are living in a millennial world, and Kathryn's a millennial girl. With experience leading the largest student-run charity event on her campus, she looks forward to bringing her unique perspective to the Hub team every day.

March 10, 2015

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