Fundraising Strategies

I was listening to Google executives touting their newest map applications.  One was proudest of the fact that maps now will be personalized to you.  He, he told the crowd, had a favorite restaurant in San Francisco.  His SF maps, therefore, would always highlight that eating-place—and show him others that were just like the one he loves.   All the features, in fact, were riffs off Google gathering information about you and then personalizing everything else to your current likes.  I find that both creepy and dismal. I’ve always hated that Amazon thinks that I am what I have ordered.  Every recommendation it makes for me is based upon past searches and/or purchases.  But I already know what I like—and, frankly, I can probably find more just like it.  What would interest me is finding things I don’t already know about—and don’t know whether I will like.  Life, I find, is far more interesting when I am more open to different experiences.

Nonprofit organizations are often like Amazon and Google.  This is what we do, this is how we do it, and we are not going to change.  If we change, however, it will be to the next thing that is being most hyped—without much thought as to whether it fits us.  So everyone jump onto the social media bandwagon—and don’t bother figuring out how it will best work for you.  Simply follow what “everyone else” is doing.

In fundraising, I find, people are apt to focus on tools rather than strategy, and not understand why, for instance—when “everyone else” is raising more money online—their “new” annual giving program based totally on online giving, tanked.

Fundraising still is built upon relationships.  That means that first and foremost you must consider your prospect and donor pools and find out how to best engage them.  And guess what?  You will find that your prospects and donors are not monolithic.  Or, as my husband likes to remind me, “one size does not fit all.”  And, just because they’ve given in one way, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this is the only way they want to engage or even that it is the best way.

All of which goes back to relationship building.  One of my clients has a very major donor who has, over many years, made it very clear that he only wants one letter a year, outlining what needs the organization has and telling him—in the same letter—what impact his last year’s gift has had.

Having made that clear, I would accommodate his wishes.  I would, in the letter, offer up the opportunity for him to change his mind at any time.  And then I wouldn’t contact him again until (a) the next year or (b) if he asked me to.

I wouldn't, I should add, love this.  My tendency would be to show appreciation, to want to get to know the donor more, to recognize—often--his generosity.  But this isn’t about me.  It is about the donor.

And because it is about the donor, we really do to focus more on what he or she wants.  We must not decide that they really want to give online, or attend less traditional-type of event.  We cannot assume, either, what they want to support.  We must, instead, engage them in as much of a conversation as makes sense.  Optimally that would mean face to face conversations with everyone;  realistically that will mean getting together with maybe 5% of your donor pool, and most of those will be your likely largest donors.

However, that doesn’t mean you can't ask the others about their preferences, and when possible, give them what they want.  Use all these wonderful new tools to reach out to your donors in new and different ways.  And honor what they tell you.  For some, the old ways continue to be best; others will appreciate your enterprise.  Still others will want you to reach out to them in many ways—and to keep checking in with them about what they like, and what they don’t.

 Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, develop stronger boards and, explore the many ways they can engage with their donors.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free, monthly newsletter