So you have finally launched your nonprofit — congratulations! Your mission-driven organization is a great way to forward the social good. But, by now, you have probably run into some challenges, such as raising awareness about your cause, attracting volunteers, and carving out a space for yourself in the community. All of these problems require lots of time and effort, and that’s without the added stress of fundraising.
The ins and outs of fundraising for your nonprofit might seem daunting. How can you appeal to donors? What strategies should you use to reach new audiences? How should you build up donor retention?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, don’t worry. There are lots of ways to streamline your fundraising efforts so that they are productive and effective.
One way that you can develop a successful fundraising strategy is by using multiple channels, or outreach methods, to reach donors. Here are our 5 favorite fundraising channels for new nonprofits:
- Nonprofit Website
- Direct Mail
- Social Media
Each of these channels have their own strengths and weaknesses, but when used together, they can effectively reach your target audiences. Through engaging storytelling, eye-catching visuals, and a touch of personalization, you will be raising money in no time.
(Not quite to the fundraising stage yet? Well, if you’re someone who likes to have a list, Snowball’s essentials for starting a nonprofit will help you ensure you’re taking all of the necessary steps to get your organization up and running.)
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each of these fundraising channels.
Text-to-give is a modern fundraising tool that has proven very effective for organizations of all shapes and sizes. For example, in 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti, Americans raised $487.6 million through an ongoing text fundraising campaign. However, although it can be extremely successful, using texts may also have a few shortcomings for your nonprofit.
- Large audience: Did you know that 97% of Americans own a cell phone of some kind? As a result, through your text campaign, you can easily reach a majority of your audience to ask for donations, send updates, and provide resources.
- Easy to donate: Texting campaigns also offer convenience to the user. Potential donors can simply click on the provided link and send in their donations. The process is even easier if the donor has saved their information with you; in that case, they only have to send the text.
- Simple setup: Not only is a text campaign easy for your donors, it’s also convenient for you. All you have to do is choose a software provider, obtain your phone number, write your messages, and then you’re good to go.
- Smaller donations: Although texting campaigns make it easier to reach your donors, it’s also more likely that they will contribute smaller amounts.
- Harder to keep donors engaged: Because texts are conveniently contained in the user’s phone, maintaining your connection might prove more challenging. However, you just need to have some strategic steps in place to make sure you stay in touch.
Although these challenges might seem discouraging, many of the cons of text campaigns can be combated by using additional channels to drive engagement. Let’s take a look at some other methods that will bolster your text-to-give campaign.
2. Nonprofit Website
This channel is practically an essential today. Building a website for your organization is a crucial step to raise your nonprofit’s visibility, especially for a new nonprofit. If a user hears about your work, they’re likely to turn to a search engine to learn more, so you want to have an online presence.
Plus, raising money online is one of the most popular ways to fundraise. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of developing your own site.
- Creates central location: A website is a must today to centralize your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. You can also give supporters the option to directly donate through your website, allowing the funds to come to you right away.
- Source for information: If a potential donor wants to learn more, your website can and should provide information about your history, your board of directors, and the kind of work that you do. All of this knowledge can influence a supporter’s decision to donate.
- Easily shareable: With just one click, a donor can easily share your website with others in their network, whether through text, email, or social media. In this way, your website creates an organic way for others to learn about your nonprofit.
- Requires upkeep: The Internet changes every day, so it’s important that you continually update your website to avoid slow load times, outdated information, and poor design. If you’re less familiar with website design, definitely keep this con in mind.
- Needs a lot of content: To make your website feel well-rounded, you’ll need to create a lot of content to fill different sections. That’s also not including images, videos, and other forms of media that might encourage donations.
Most of the work for your website will likely be done on the front end. Once you launch, you’ll just have to do occasional updates to make sure everything runs smoothly. After you publish, you’ll find that having your own website is a nonprofit fundraising essential.
3. Direct Mail
Direct mail is a time-tested fundraising channel that nonprofits of all sizes have relied on for decades. Although direct mail has proven its success, it does have a few newer drawbacks now that we are living in the digital age.
- Easily segment your donors: Segmenting your donors is a great way to target specific donors based on demographic characteristics, their average gift size, or their donation frequency. Through direct mail, you can ensure that different audiences are receiving different materials, each designed to fit their interests.
- Streamlines most important information: With shorter, printed materials like direct mail, you’ll be able to convey your nonprofit’s baseline message in an easily readable and straightforward format. Try to create compelling appeals that catch your donor’s attention.
- Directly reaches the donor: Another benefit of direct mail is the way it puts you right in front of your supporter. Plus, direct mail is already a tested method that has proven its effectiveness time and time again.
- Low responses: Unfortunately, direct mail, when compared to some other fundraising channels, is a bit outdated. Although it can still be effective, you should keep in mind that it might not be as successful as more modern methods.
- Expensive: A thorough direct mail campaign can have a high initial cost, which might be off putting if your nonprofit is brand new.
If you have the means to fund a direct mail campaign, it can really help to raise awareness about your cause while also driving your donors to other channels, like your website or social media. Direct mail can also be extremely effective if you target particular segments of your donors. This kind of specificity results in higher conversion rates and donors are more likely to contribute again.
4. Social Media
Social media only continues to become more important for organizations everywhere. A large online following can increase your visibility, spread awareness about your cause, and give you an easy way to interact with supporters. But launching your own digital fundraising campaign has its own challenges.
- Easy for users to find: A strong social media presence will make it easy for users to find your nonprofit and quickly get a sense of what you do. Plus, nearly 82% of Americans use social media, so you’ll also have access to a large audience.
- Highly shareable: Like your website, your social media content and account will be easy for users to share across their platforms. Each of these shares can increase your nonprofit’s visibility online.
- Continual engagement: Encouraging donors to follow you on social media ensures that they stay up to date with your nonprofit, especially as you launch different fundraising campaigns throughout the year. Growing your social media following is also a great way to reach supporters outside of your local community.
- Inexpensive: One of the best things about social media — it’s free! Outlets like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have huge platforms that you can connect with for no cost. Platforms like Facebook also have built-in fundraising tools that you can use to gather donations.
- Needs compelling images: Because social media is such an image-oriented platform, you’ll need plenty of cohesive images to retain your audience’s interest.
- Requires time and effort: Creating those images, interacting with followers, keeping up with trends, and pumping out content all requires a great deal of time and effort. For this reason, investing heavily in social media might be more efficient for larger teams.
The bottom line: Social media presents lots of fundraising opportunities, but you have to put in the work to generate interesting content.
Email is a favored method among nonprofits to connect with their supporters about their fundraising efforts. Despite its popularity, email is not quite as effective as it used to be, which is certainly worth keeping in mind as you develop a multi-channel fundraising strategy
- Convenient for you: Emails are easy for you to send to a lot of donors at once. Plus, it’s easy to have a variety of content, whether it’s a list of highlights from the year or a more detailed newsletter.
- Inexpensive: Like social media, email is an inexpensive way for you to connect with your supporters. It can also be a cost effective way to quickly reach donors with important updates.
- Can link to other channels: Because emails offer an easy portal to the web, you can easily provide links to your website and social media accounts.
- Potential for spam: The last thing you want is to end up in a donor’s spam folder, but emails that are too heavy-handed with their marketing might end up there. Avoid getting lost with these writing tips from Fundraising Letters.
- Requires recurrent emails: Low open rates mean that you need to keep sending reminders to donors. You also have to strike the right balance: send too many emails and risk donors unsubscribing, send too little and fail to leave an impression.
- Low response rates: With inboxes everywhere being inundated with hundreds of emails, clickthrough rates have decreased over time. Response rates, for example, have fallen by 9% in recent years.
If you’re concerned about these cons, try brainstorming ways to make your emails unique and interesting. Standing out in your donor’s inbox can increase your click-through rates and decrease your chances of ending up in spam. You don’t want a donor to miss a big fundraising campaign!
As you can see, each of these fundraising channels has its own benefits and drawbacks. Designing an organized fundraising strategy can help you test different channels and track your progress. And don’t forget that you will continue to learn as you go!
The important thing to remember is that high-quality content and meaningful connections can make any of these channels persuasive to your target audience.
John Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations.