In the early days of our organization, a coach once told me that fundraising was a healing art. My initial response was incredulity, like really?! My guess is that most people do not start nonprofits because of a burning desire to do fundraising. It is often viewed as a begrudging necessity. Many nonprofits struggle for years with inadequate fundraising. They get caught in 12-month funding cycles or deal with restrictive funding or dread certain times of the year when funding dries up. It’s for these reasons and many more that nonprofits should stop fundraising and start building long-term sustainable revenue streams. But how? The secret is to build mutually beneficial business partnerships with companies that share your values. Here are nine strategies to get you started:
1. Know your base.
Who is your goal going to resonate with? Where do you have the strongest connections? It can be the industry you are already working in, the community in which you live, the church you go to, or people who are touched by the problem that you are helping to solve. Once you’ve identified your base, listen and find out what is important to them, what their goals are and what kind of support they need from you to stay engaged.
2. Invite to join—don’t ask.
Asking people to donate can be painful, humiliating and an exercise in frustration. Instead, invite people to join your movement. You’re giving them a chance to make a difference in the world and even solve some major societal problems. You are giving them a gift!
3. Set a big goal.
Look beyond the day-to-day work you are doing. For our organization, Vitamin Angels, donors may think it’s wonderful that we work with local partners and governments to reach underserved pregnant women and children with essential nutrition. But it’s much more powerful to invite our donors to join us in “eliminating newborn mortality due to vitamin deficiency diseases by 2030.” Create an inspiring goal, and you will move people to want to be part of it for the long haul.
4. Point to an irresistible metric.
Come up with an equation that is hard to resist. When you have the right metric, it can do two important things: First, it can prove how efficient you are and what an impact you can make for so little, and second, it sticks out in people’s minds during their regular everyday purchases. For example, it costs us $5 to provide a woman with prenatal vitamins and minerals for her entire pregnancy. Donors may think, Wow, for the cost of two lattes I could have helped provide an underserved woman with prenatal vitamins for her entire pregnancy! We’ve found that many of our larger donors will use these types of metrics when calculating their donation and realizing how great their impact will be.
5. Think long term.
In stating the problem that you are helping to solve, contextualize it within a bigger picture. For example, at Vitamin Angels, we know that children are nutritionally vulnerable for the first five years of their lives, so we know we need a minimum three- to five-year commitment in whatever region we are working in. Identify and communicate this commitment to your donors so that they can see both the immediate and long-term impact of their continued donations.
6. Showcase your value as a business partner.
One strategy we used for years was to tell potential donors, “If you just want to write a check and put our logo on your website, we’re probably not the right organization for you.” We often got a startled response, but it was effective. This is because we encourage donors to become more involved with our organization beyond just the transactional donation.
What does this look like? It’s different for each donor, but you should always start by listening to what their business objectives are and then identifying how you can play a role in helping to achieve them. Whether it’s building an employee engagement strategy, creating custom CSR reporting, participating at their company events or helping them to weave your messaging in their advertising, PR and social media, showcasing the value you can bring back to them as their partner is key to fostering a long-term partnership.
7. Sell stories.
A marketing friend once told me, “Facts tell, stories sell.” It’s easy to rattle off amazing statistics, but a story about real people experiencing the benefits of your nonprofit’s work will stick in people’s minds! It’s okay to standardize your support for donors, but frame it in a way that feels unique to them. For example, one unique way we use stories for one of our partners is through a custom micro-site that allows their employees to see and hear at any time from the people they have directly impacted through our partnership. Real stories have the power to create lasting connections, especially when shared through an avenue that is unique to the needs of that specific donor.
8. Share your wins.
Everyone has busy lives these days, so consistent communication is key to staying front of mind. When you share your victories and the progress you are making, people will feel like they’re a part of your work too. And businesses love to be around successful organizations—it makes them look good.
9. Go all in.
People need to know that you are completely committed. They need to feel how passionate you are about your cause. Let people know how hard you are working to solve this problem and that you genuinely care. Be authentic. Passion is infectious!
Fundraising is ultimately about relationships. People have to like you and the people behind you, believe in you and get drawn in by your story. If you are able to communicate authentically and execute a few of these guidelines, you can stand out from the crowd and begin to create long-term partnerships, which in turn can create ongoing revenue streams for your nonprofit.