1) Focus on the basics (Create Your Systems)

W. Edwards Deming said, “Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your product and service, and that bring friends with them.”

Develop your rinse-and-repeat systems for growing individual giving. How are you transforming first-time donors into regular donors, as well as mid-level donors into major donors? What systems do you have in place to collect the stories that move your donors? How are you capturing your donors’ stories?

Think through every step of every process with the end in mind.

This isn’t the kind of thinking that’s going to generate excitement at your next staff or board meeting. They’ll be more excited about the latest bright shiny object. But systems thinking is the oftentimes critical missing piece in growing your donor base.

What are your organization’s processes for new donors, in-memoriam donors, Facebook fundraiser donors, monthly donors, etc.?

One of our long-time students wrote in:

“We’re 74% of the way to our revenue budget and we’re not quite halfway through our fiscal year and are up 322% year over year (last year we raised almost $770K) How are we doing it? By sticking to the basics: great case, a plan that people can see themselves in, engaging current supporters in meaningful ways, identifying and engaging new supporters the right way: inviting them in as partners, not just a gift…and looking to add new/different ways to give that make it easy for someone to act — as well as share with others.”

2) In everything you do: Lead With Gratitude

In the nonprofit sector, gratitude is often overlooked. We’re impossibly busy. We’re doing important work. Such vital work, many of us are inclined to think, we shouldn’t need to make our case for support or thank our donors. We never once stop to consider our work from the perspective of our funders. Customer service — meaning donor care — will be more important in 2020 than ever before.

And yet, our ingratitude as a sector is hurting us.

Stewardship is the very core of your development plan. In 2020 make a plan for your gratitude practice. Incorporate it into your day and plan for it. Will you be calling donors every morning before you begin your day? Perhaps you’ll be writing hand-written thank you notes or sending out “just because” thank you post-cards.

3) Inspire and delight

We talk a lot about “inspiring and delighting” our donors And inspiring and delighting is not only the key to growing your individual donor base, but it’s also key to growing a movement.

A movement. Something we are going to be needing to mobilize more and more.

How will you inspire and create moments for your donors in the upcoming year? Pick and choose and incorporate some of these ideas into your donor communications.

4) Develop your organization’s culture

There’s a reason why the first chapter of Simple Development Systems is devoted to bringing everyone on your team on board. Your organization’s culture plays a critical role in your fundraising success. You can succeed without it, yes. But you’ll be exhausted, diminished, and you won’t be around too long.

The important thing to remember is that organizational culture takes work to build. Don’t expect to bring in a consultant for a 1-hour training and slack off the rest of the year. Instilling a culture of philanthropy involves time, patience, and dedication, as well as cooperation. Most importantly, it involves gratitude. But the results are so worth it. A strong organizational culture leads to happier staff, volunteers, and board members. And it definitely leads to happier donors. If your nonprofit is mired in dysfunction, taking the steps necessary to build a healthy workplace culture is the remedy.

Mandy Fischer, Development Director at Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont, knows how important a strong culture is to fundraising success. In the post, Growing Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, Mandy shared how she created a strong fundraising culture with her board and staff. And she referenced a “COP one-pager” that she developed for board and staff. You can download Mandy’s tool here.

5) Develop your “positively happy” mindset.

The flames of fear are being fanned every day. If you’re paying attention, you’re being gaslighted. The nonprofit sector is not immune. And we’re oftentimes picking up the slack services government should be providing, with little by way of resources.

You must develop a practice of resistance. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Harvard happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, notes that your happiness affects others.

“Each one of us is like that butterfly the Butterfly Effect. And each tiny move toward a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organizations our families and our communities.”

Your practice must become habit. Will you set aside 30 minutes every morning for inspirational listening (or reading)? Meditate? Engage in vigorous physical activity? You cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought. Your strength will come from taking good care of yourself.

6) Master your data

Our students and clients are experiencing their greatest success through the power of increased donor segmentation. After all, how can you focus on your most valuable donors if you don't know who they are? Click To Tweet When it comes to your data, plan to dig deeper.

When was the last time you had a professional data audit performed? In his presentation to our Foolproof Fundraising group, T. Clay Buck notes that a database audit takes a deep dive into all the data in your database and looks at it objectively. You’ll get a firm handle on your data quality and hygiene, donors’ giving history, trends specific to your organization, demographic information and more. I can’t imagine a better way to begin your year.

This is the year to make it a point to schedule regular time for training on your CRM. Twenty-four percent of nonprofit emails end up in spam folders. Keep your list clean. Quality trumps quantity. Use solid, permission-based marketing to grow your email list and never add names manually.

7) Focus on small-dollar donors

Yeah, I know I’m speaking heresy. The 80/20 rule of fundraising is our sector’s unchallenged religion. Now it’s being reported that small-donor contributions are down and “mega donors” are seeing a growth. Nonprofits continue to believe the rich will save them.

But where do our major donors come from? Rarely are the result of a stranger landing on your site and making a $1000 gift. More often than not, your major donors initially arrived via their first $25 gift. You must have the systems in place to grow those relationships.

And what about inclusivity and diversity? Many Democratic candidates are focusing on building a coalition of small dollar donors. “Candidates for public office in America spend way too much time with wealthy donors,” Elizabeth Warren announced, going on to relate that she will eschew “fancy receptions or big money fundraisers only with people who can write the big checks.” What about Lifetime Value?

The best way to grow your small donor program? Start your monthly giving program — and most importantly, work it.

Remember, you won’t grow your program by merely including the option to give monthly online. Your organization’s monthly giving program isn’t an afterthought. Go through the process of developing your monthly giving case for support and create a dedicated program. Review your donor data with an eye to loyalty and include at least one (preferably three or more) monthly giving appeal(s) every year to your target audience.

8) Get out of your head and IMPLEMENT

When I started out as a fundraising in 2000, there was relatively little information available online. Training was, for the most part, didactic and overpriced.

These days, there’s almost too much information out there. The sheer amount of content is overwhelming. What makes it even trickier is that some of it — ESPECIALLY from some of the fundraising platforms — is downright wrong, and little more than clickbait.

And, if you’re new to fundraising, it can send you in the wrong direction. 

Case in point… Recently I viewed a webinar from a relatively new software company. We’re always on the lookout for guest presenters for our weekly webinar series and, since this training was marketed to small nonprofits, I made the time to check it out.

I was only 10 minutes in when I saw that the tactics being presented were awful for the small nonprofit. Absolutely terrible.

What’s more, if you implemented the methods presented, they could set your organization back. And this trainer presented her opinions with such absolute authority, that it left me dismayed for any unsuspecting newbies who may have stumbled across the webinar. She spoke with conviction and sounded like she knew what she was talking about. So why wouldn’t they believe her? (A quick search led to a LinkedIn profile highlighting extensive university fundraising experience…and none whatsoever in working with the small nonprofit organizations this training was targeted to.)

Jim Rohn said “Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” Click To Tweet

Use your time wisely.

9) Communicate consistently and well through all available (and suitable) channels.

Are you using text-messaging simply because you CAN? What is your end goal, and are you getting permission? Don’t abandon direct mail, particularly your print newsletters. As Lisa Sargent notes, “Print newsletters are your retention engines.” And, when done well, they perform as well (and in some cases, better) as an appeal.

Think multichannel. Online giving is growing but still, less than 10% of US charitable income is now raised online. One of our subscribers noted that the result of ditching direct mail in favor of digital three years ago was a loss of nearly two-thirds of their donor base! And Tina Cincotti says, “By receiving a letter and then giving online, that supporter has become worth more to you. Donors connected to you through multiple points give at least 20% more than donors connected through only one channel. They also have better conversion rates. And higher retention rates. So you’d best be fundraising both online and offline.”

10) Factor regular acquisition tactics

such as Facebook advertising, Facebook fundraisers, small house parties, email list-building, direct mail acquisition, and crowdfunding, into your yearly fundraising planning. Keep it focused to one or three and you’ll see greater success.

11) Create your organization’s planned giving program and schedule in a legacy mailing every year

As I speak daily with nonprofit organizations, one of my first questions is always “do you have a planned giving program?” Nine out of ten times the answer is no. Bequest giving accounted for 9% of all overall philanthropic giving in 2018, more than corporate funding. Even a tagline is better than nothing.


See also:

New Year’s Resolutions For Your Fundraising Events


During COVID-19: The Supporter Experience is More Important than Ever

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The entire world is on edge right now. We’re all self-isolating…and feeling isolated. You have the power to help ease that fear and uncertainty with a personal touch. Call a minimum of five donors today and every day to say hello and to find out how they’re holding up. Let your donors know that you […]

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Times are tough right now, and we are struggling. You, I, and everyone else knows it. But what does that mean for nonprofits? Now, more than ever, donor service is paramount. Reaching out to those who make your work possible, particularly during these scary, uncertain times not only carries extra impact, it shines a light. […]

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Communicating During COVID-19: Interview

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What’s In My Inbox | A B&M Alum shows how to communicate with your donors right now

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In this week’s Motivate Monday session, we touched on donor communications during COVID-19 and zeroed in on gratitude. If you’re unsure of how to continue fundraising during this time of chaos, gratitude is the best place to start. Over the past few days, a handful of great examples have landed in my inbox. Aside from […]

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Earlier this week, the incomparable Julie Cooper came through to deliver a jam-packed power half-hour for Motivate Monday. Julie is a copywriter who specializes in direct response fundraising writing. Her presentation comes as the perfect followup to Steven Shattuck’s session about how to inspire first-time donors to give again. Imagine a prospective supporter has learned […]

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Yoda Reveals the Secret to Fundraising Success

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“Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?…You must unlearn what you have learned….Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda Success can be boiled down to this essential: without commitment, you will not succeed. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is convinced that he’ll never […]

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Fundraising Friday | March 6, 2020

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Lessons from Motivate Monday | Turn First-Time Donors Into Repeat Donors

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Earlier this week, Steven Shattuck, Chief Engagement Officer over at Bloomerang, was our guest for Motivate Monday. During this power half-hour, Steven talked about ways nonprofits can be proactive when it comes to first-time donors. The donor retention rates for first-time donors, already abysmal, have dropped from roughly 23% to 20%. Only 20% of first-time […]

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In my book, Simple Development Systems, I stress how important monthly giving is for all organizations — especially for small nonprofits. If you want to build sustainability and achieve amazing results for the long-term, then monthly giving is vital to your fundraising plan. I recommend that most organizations engage in a bare minimum of two dedicated […]

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What’s In My Mailbox | This appeal package wins HARD. Read on to see why…

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