How to Raise Money for Nonprofit Organizations: A Comprehensive Guide
Step 1: Panic.
If your nonprofit is like most, your fundraising strategy will stem from a single emotional reaction to the revelation that the money you’re bringing in is much, much less than the bills you have to pay, and that reaction is panic. Don’t worry! Panic is a perfectly normal response to crunching the numbers and realizing that in a manner of months, you’ll have to either default on your loans or fail to pay your staff. This complete lack of foresight and basic financial competancy has quite a pleasant-sounding name in the world of nonprofit finance: a “shortfall.” Doesn’t that just sound lovely? A shortfall. Like a little waterfall. It’s not an especially tall waterfall, just a shortfall!
But a shortfall is not, of course, a waterfall. It’s a massive gaping void slowly (or quickly, depending on the size of the shortfall!) draining the financial life out of your organization, sucking completely it dry of the blood, sweat, and tears that have kept it going this long and threatening to close its doors forever, eternal and resounding like Nora’s door slam at the end of A Doll’s House, only worse, because there was actually a really excellent play on Broadway recently called A Doll’s House, Part 2 wherein Nora returns to the house she so famously left. It starred Laurie Metcalf. She’s great. You should get Laurie Metcalf to fundraise for you!
Oh? You’re aren’t the Steppenwolf Theatre? Well, then, as they say in show biz, “tough luck, kid!”
So the Laurie Metcalf idea has fizzled out. Where do you go from there?
Well, once the period of panic is over (this can last from several hours to several weeks, depending on the size of the shortfall and the number and severity of anxiety disorders possessed by your board members), it’s time for you to make a fundraising plan. I know this can sound intimidating, but don’t worry! It’s much simpler than it sounds.
A fundraising plan is, essentially, a dance. Now, some of you may be thinking “but I don’t have any dance training!” Others of you may be thinking “I have years of dance training, as my nonprofit’s mission is to teach underserved Asian elephants traditional Polish folk dance, and I’m one of our instructors in addition to being Development Director, Marketing Director, Social Media Manager, Anti-Social Media Manager, Head of Public Relations, Head of Pubic Relations, lighting designer, janitorial staff, volunteer firefighter, and midnight paperwork operator,” and to you I say, stop bragging, Janet. It’s impolite and not a good fundraising technique.
As for the rest of you, you’ll be happy to know that dance training isn’t what really matters when it comes to performing the dance of fundraising planning. It’s all about passion for your mission and a can-do attitude! Also stamina, as these dances can last for months at a time.
To begin the dance, simply move your body in literally any way. Or, if you’re a more “avant-garde” type, simply take a flag outside on a windy day and shout “IS THIS DANCE?” repeatedly and aggressively at passerby. Other members of the fundraising process--staff, board members, volunteers, and so on--will begin to join the dance by moving their bodies in literally any way as well. Someone may turn on music, or they may not. The process is totally improvised! Don’t worry about your other responsibilities, like responding to emails, answering incoming phone calls, or feeding your children. Right now, the dance is the most important thing.
Once you collapse, sweaty, panting, and exhausted after hours, weeks, days or more of completely disorganized, incohesive, and unintelligible improvisational dance, it’s time to move on to implementation! It’s important at this stage that you have a donor management system. A donor management system can be a simple Excel spreadsheet, but you may benefit from paid donor management systems like DonorPerfect, Bloomerang, or my cousin Ted. Ted’s really good at remembering stuff: one time, he memorized all the states, their capitals, and their most frequently committed crime! For more information, check out his website, www.mycousinted.com.
Now that you’ve got your planning and donor management system out of the way, let’s talk fundraising strategies. There are some tried-and-true methods that probably won’t be a complete waste of time for your organization. You could try a direct mail campaign, spending hundreds or even thousands on postage, contributing to the ongoing large-scale environmental destruction of our planet by using tons of paper, and eating up hours and hours of staff and/or volunteer time stuffing envelopes so that your potential donors can easily throw your letter away without even opening it. While costly, direct mail campaigns serve many nonprofits well, especially those with donor bases who are trapped in time loops that confine them to the early 1960s, when owning a checkbook and using the postal service were like reasonable, non-archaic things to do (remember, there was no Venmo then!). Just be sure that your letter isn’t signed by a woman; there’s no way those time loop donors will take a women seriously! In fact, neither will anyone else. Thank goodness that some rules of fundraising never change.
Events are another tried-and-true fundraising method. Who doesn’t love get dressed up in their finest to stand around in a stuffy venue, eating bland food, drinking shitty wine, and making small talk with people they don’t care for, only to be asked for money at the end as if this whole experience weren’t so excruciating that you should be paying them for suffering through it? Choose a fun, cause-relevant theme for your event, like Under the Sea if you’re a jellyfish rights organization, or A Night in Paris if you’re a coalition of assassins who recently iced a high-ranking French official. Fun!
But if you really want to bring your fundraising strategy into the 21st century, consider the many ways technology can benefit your efforts. Set up a fundraising page online so your donors can quickly and easily ignore your pleas for donations directly from your website! Better yet, collect donations from your Facebook or Myspace page or sign up for programs like Amazon Smile, which donates an infinitesimal fraction of Jeff Bezos’ annual earnings to you for every purchase your donor makes, or Walmart Laugh, in which Walmart employees laugh at the absurdity of you asking them, minimum wage workers already making far less than they should be, to give money to a cause like knitting socks for homeless birds when they can’t even pay their monthly rent.
Maybe you want to get more creative with your fundraising. Great! Try hosting a rummage sale with items donated by community members. Or credit card fraud. Credit card fraud is surprisingly easy to commit, and the maximum jail time for it is just five years. Remember, no risk, no reward!
Once you’ve received a donation, it’s essential that you thank your donors right away. After all, if you don’t send Grandma and Grandpa a thank you note, they might not get you anything for Christmas next year, am I right? You don’t want your grandparents thinking you’re ungrateful and refusing to come down to visit you next year, do you? You don’t want them to die without ever having seen them again, all because you wouldn’t write one simple thank you note for the sweater they got you, do you? DO YOU, TONY? Of course you don’t. So send a personalized thank you to your donors right away.
Timing is everything when it comes to the thank you note. If possible, thank all donors within 24 seconds of their donation. The best way to thank someone, of course, is by grabbing them by both shoulders, screaming “THANK YOU FOR YOUR GENEROUS DONATION” directly into their face, and then French-kissing them for seven or eight minutes. Of course, in this busy digital age, this isn’t always possible, so setting up a Skype call or emailing a video of these actions will suffice as well. Just remember--it has to come as. Soon. As. Fucking. Possible. Studies show that donors who don’t receive a thank you within a minute of donation are 109% less likely to make a repeat donation, so keep those alerts on your cell phone and be prepared to thank a donor at any moment, whether you’re in the office, at home asleep, or in the arms of your French lover Jean Claude. GET. THOSE. THANK YOUS. OUT. NOW!!!
By following these simple steps, you’ll find that you’re reducing that shortfall in no time, going from crippling debt to moderately crippling debt in just a few centuries, decades, or even years! Now, go out there and raise some funds! You can do it, champ!