Successful fundraising is an art and a science, and just like in a lot of art, the science doesn’t always add up. In that regard, we can say definitively that fundraising is not math, though it does involve plenty of numbers.
All that is to say, fundraising is hard, and exponentially so without preparation. But since you are taking the time to read this article, you already know that, so let’s go ahead and jump into the top five elements your fundraiser must have in order to be successful.
Without further adieu, every good fundraiser has these five things in common:
1. You Need Good Communication
As you may well know, the most important key to a successful fundraise is having strong relationships, and there is no ingredient more vital to cooking up a strong relationship than good communication. When we talk about communication, we are referring to the what, when, where, how, and why of your fundraising event, the latter being the most important. Let’s run through them all really quickly, just to confirm we are all on the same page:
- What: Communicating what the fundraiser is, whether it’s a pledge drive, physical event, or raffle-style raise.
- When: Communicating when the fundraiser is taking place, whether it is a single date or a specific period of time with a strict timeline. Include a count down if needed!
- Where: Communicating where the fundraiser, if it is a physical event, is taking place, as well as directing would be attendees or donors to where they can sign up or donate!
- How: Communicating how this fundraiser and the funds raised will benefit your organization or cause, as well as communicating how would-be donors can contribute.
- Why: Communicating why this fundraiser is important - why are you putting all your time and resources into it, and why those would-be donors should care.
Beyond the above, good communication is also impacted by the frequency and multiple touch points of your messaging. You can’t send one email, Facebook post, or physical mailer and expect the money to roll in. In order to communicate your fundraiser effectively, you need to reach out multiple times across multiple touch points leading up to your event.
Example: Plan to reach out to at least 7-15 times in the lead up to your event across at least five platforms, which could be through social media like Facebook or Instagram, through phone outreach, email outreach, physical door to door outreach and one more, whether it be writing a blog post or securing an ad in the local paper or on a local radio station.
2. You Need Strong Lead Lists
You won’t be able to get away with hosting and promoting a fundraiser event without a strong starting list of leads to reach out to. This could be as small as your immediate friends and family, or as large as entire phone books of local residents to call up as part of a phone-a-thon drive. If you are hosting a crowdfunding fundraiser, for example, an email lead list of those who would be interested in backing your cause or event will account for about 70% of all funds raised. Without one of these lists, even if it’s just a list of your own personal email contacts, you won’t get very far.
Are you starting out without any organization-wide outreach lists? Maybe you should reassess your initial fundraising objective and start out smaller. For example, what type of money could you raise from a jogathon style event with a cheap minimum buy-in if only your own staff and friends came out to support? Aim to raise an amount in the ballpark of what’s feasible based on the people you know. Then, host the event inviting just those people, and once you’ve proven you can do it, aim to repeat it in a month or so, only this time, encourage everyone who attended last time to invite three to five of their own friends, and grow participation incrementally.
Another option: create lists of public-facing email addresses for local businesses, and reach out to them individually to invite them to participate. You can even start by introducing yourself and your organization, and simply ask their permission to include them on communications about local events and fundraisers your group will be organizing. This is a good way to “soft sell” them on getting event invites from you in the future without being blocked or written off as spam.
3. You Need Something of Value to Offer
In addition to effectively communicating the importance of donating, in order for your fundraiser to be successful, you need to offer value to those would-be donors backing your cause. How can you provide your backers or donors something worthy of their hard-earned money besides good will? While good will is good, it’s often not enough with hundreds of other causes constantly asking your donors for their money and attention. It can often be hard to justify donating, even to a good cause, with bills that need to be paid.
Make it worth your backer’s time by offering them an incentive for donating. This is something the world of online crowdfunding does really well. When you back a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you get what’s known as a “reward” or “perk” based around whatever amount you donated. Can your organization provide a free service for them to thank them for participating? Can you partner with another local business for discounts or free gifts as a token of your gratitude? If you offer different prize packages for different donation tiers, maybe you can throw in different perks and cover the costs with the extra money raised?
We aren’t specifically talking about throwing in a free iphone for donations over $2,000, as the best “value” you can add to a donor is often experiential. While you are trying to raise money, you want as much money to go to the cause or event you are fundraising for as possible, which is why the value you offer to your backers should be something that positively impacts their life and is something they wouldn’t get themselves otherwise, whether that be a service you could provide, or an actual role in the event your are fundraising for.
Another example: In the mile-a-millisecond social media world we live in today, where trends come and go by the hashtag-wayside, you could offer your donors an experience they will cherish forever with a family portrait fundraiser, exchanging money for a set time with a photographer. They will capture the memory of their adorable kids or loving family at this exact moment in time with a physical keepsake, while you will keep 100% of the proceeds. A win win!
4. You Need an Effective Ask
While technically part of good communication, it's worth reiterating as its own point: in order for you to host an effective fundraiser, you need to be specific and effective with what you are asking your donors to donate to. You are asking them to do something very specific - give money- but the how and the why that they are donating to needs to be just as specific. Communicate exactly what you want your donors to do, and exactly how you want them to do it. Then, it’s all about communicating what that money will go to and why that cause is important.
Hosting a fundraiser is not the time to “stay in your lane.” It’s the time to pave your own super-highway and funnel as many people onto it as quickly as possible. But in order to play traffic police and keep people merging up the on-ramp at a rapid pace, you need to tell them exactly where they are going. At the same time, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to get there! Just like you wouldn’t want obstacles obstructing drivers on a freeway, you definitely don’t want obstacles obstructing donors from backing your fundraiser. An effective and simple ask will do the job - and even encourage backers to donate more than you’re asking for.
If you are throwing a physical event, this means keeping the event short and to the point. Start with whatever housekeeping you need to get out of the way, then get right to it.
If you are running an online fundraiser, this means sharing the link to the page everywhere and making the donate button as big as possible so people know where to go to donate.
5. You Need to Raise Your Goal - and Then Some!
Naturally, this one is so obvious we could have put it as number one, but because it goes without saying, we decided to include it last because, well, it’s important never to forget the goal of your event: to raise money for your cause or organization. In order for a fundraiser to be successful, you do need to hit your goal - and hopefully, if you’ve done everything else right, you’ll raise over your intended goal - what’s known in the industry as “overfunding.”
If you do exceed your target raise, it would be wise to have a plan in place for how you will allocate those funds, especially if you can communicate that to your attendees in a way that energizes them to strive to help overfund the event. In crowdfunding, we call this having a “stretch goal” that others can rally behind, and even if your stretch goal isn’t public-facing, it’s always smart to be just as prepared for an abundance of success as you are for an outright failure.
And that’s it! The five elements your fundraiser must have to be successful are good communication, a strong lead list, something of value to offer, an effective ask, and preferably more than your set goal amount raised!