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There are warning signs on the horizon about the state of the American economy, including a possible recession. But I have seen time and time again — especially in recent years — nonprofits rising to myriad challenges and boosting gift income despite serious obstacles.
As we move forward in a new year, nonprofits that work hard and work smart can and should boost gift income to enjoy record resource development years. I want to highlight 10 pragmatic ways that nonprofit leaders can more effectively ask for and secure gifts that will fuel their noble missions that touch, improve and save lives. These are based on proven principles of the art and science of fundraising, innovative strategies and best practices.
1. Ensure Your Mission, Vision and Values Resonate
Put yourself in the shoes of donors. There are more than 1.8 million nonprofits in the U.S. serving every conceivable mission under the sun. Donors aren’t choosing between the good and the bad but are forced to make difficult decisions between the good and the good. Even the wealthiest donors can’t respond favorably to every request they receive.
Gather management, board, staff, volunteers and donors together for frank discussions on what makes your nonprofit distinctive. What can you say about your nonprofit that all those other good causes can’t? Revisit your mission, vision and values to ensure they resonate in an extremely competitive nonprofit environment.
2. Set Stretch-but-Realistic Goals and Objectives
Be specific. How are you going to retain current donors and, more critically, how are you going to acquire new supporters? The good news is that there are more communications tools to tell your story, and many are affordable for small and midsize organizations. At the top of the list are videos that can be produced from smart devices and for social media campaigns.
3. Engage All in Discovering, Cultivating, Soliciting and Stewarding Donor Prospects
If you think this can be completely delegated to the director of development, staff and development committee, you will be doomed to fall short of your potential. Everyone — no matter what their title or role — can make a contribution in telling the story and spreading the word about the good works accomplished by your organization, so enthusiastically engage all members of your nonprofit family in robust fundraising activities.
4. Focus on Major Gifts
Major gifts are defined differently from organization to organization and even differently within the same nonprofit as it grows, but they are the surest path to success.
I like to emphasize the enormous infusion of momentum created by a small or midsize nonprofit scoring its first or next million-dollar gift. From that moment on, it will be viewed very differently both internally and externally. Major donors will consider you an appropriate place to donate seven-figure gifts.
5. Lead by Example
It starts with the board and management setting the fundraising chessboard for everything that follows. Any campaign or appeal begins by challenging board members and management to make their personal stretch-but-realistic gifts. Quite simply, they won’t have credibility in the community when soliciting others if they have not given at a personally significant level themselves.
6. Ask Unabashedly for Unrestricted Gifts
MacKenzie Scott set an inspiring example by contributing $14 billion in unrestricted funds, recognizing that recipients understand best how to put the money to good use. Too many nonprofits shy away from such solicitations with self-defeating attitudes that donors won’t respond favorably.
Consider that people don’t designate the purpose when investing in the stock market and rely on monitoring the company’s bottom line performance. Why should nonprofits be any different? Ask unabashedly for unrestricted gifts that empower your organization to use the funds when and where needed most.
7. Prepare for the Largest Wealth Transfer in History
There are only three places that treasure chests go — loved ones, government or charity. Donors can typically make legacy gifts from estates several-fold larger than gifts from income, while potentially postponing any out-of-pocket expenditure. The overwhelming majority of these are charitable bequests, retirement plans and life insurance policies, so get ready for the mind-numbing $68 trillion wealth transfer from the baby boomer generation.
8. Collaborate Like the World Depends on It
There are many win-wins out there for nonprofits sharing mission space. The obvious one is making joint requests that funders love to receive. Others include teaming up on services, programs and back-office operations.
9. Walk the DAF Talk
Donor-advised funds (DAFs) have dramatically emerged as the most dynamic component of American philanthropy. The National Philanthropic Trust reported that the value of grants from DAFs to charities around the world increased to an astounding $46 billion — a number that no doubt will continue to grow. Just like monthly giving, your websites, marketing materials and donor conversations should highlight DAFs.
10. Invest in Fundraising Training
The return on investment is well-documented. Frankly, I’ve discovered most professional and volunteer nonprofit leaders are scared of asking for gifts because they’ve never experienced a genuine solicitation for themselves. So, this really boils down to a fear of the unknown.
Fundraising training will pull back the curtain and show that asking is both art and science that can be learned and practiced by all different personalities. All those involved in discovery, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship should receive either in-person or online fundraising training.
Your nonprofit — programs, services, staff and particularly the beneficiaries of your mission — deserve the best. More money equals more mission. Empower your nonprofit to aim and reach higher in improving the world.Return to Insights & Events