Millennial Nonprofit Fundraising Lessons

Roderick Campbell 03/24/2016
Lessons from Idaho Nonprofit Center's Fundraising Symposia

  1. Now that it's 2016, we're all millennials. We need to rapidly adapt to the mobile internet, an internationalized economy, and emerging technological and cultural trends.
  2. Online fundraising is the future of nonprofit development, and it's critical that we begin to cultivate communities online and diligently improve our fundraising content and media.
  3. Focus on clear and simple giving experiences. The best way to increase online giving is by reducing the distance between a donor's passion and transaction -- make it easy!
  4. Building momentum from scratch can be challening, but strategies like champion lists are a great way to control the momentum and tempo of your fundraising campaigns.
  5. Post more often to social media; once a day isn't enough because only a fraction of your followers will see any individual post. Start at 2-3 times per day and don't over think it.
  6. Online fundraising allows you to raise sustainable, recurring revenue. You should be focusing heavily on building up monthly recurring donors -- start breaking out of the cycle of poverty.
  7. Don't overanalyze your successes and failures, and certainly don't take them to heart. Iterate constantly and remember that a significant portion of online fundraising is a numbers game.

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Simplify, Streamline, and Test Giving Forms

The single easiest way to increase online giving is by improving your donation forms and making the giving experience easier for donors! It's surprisingly, almost embarrassingly, easy. The trick is to simply reduce the distance between a donor's passion and their transaction. Long, clunky, or ugly forms will create donor friction and significantly increase their drop-off rate.

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Control Fundraising Campaign Momentum

Most fundraising campaigns follow the same pattern: a large wave of momentum from core supporters in the first 72 hours, then dead silence in the middle, and a flurry of activity at the very end of the campaign. We call that middle silence the "trough of sorrow" and it's difficult to overcome. One strategy we recommend is creating an opt-in champion list. Here's how:

  1. Create an excel spreadsheet with: name, email, phone, facebook, twitter, email friends
  2. Have everyone at the organization list EVERYONE they think they can convince to share your campaign when it launches. You're not asking for money, so response rate will be high.
  3. Before the campaign launches, systematically contact each person and ask if they're willing to be a champion by sharing the campaign when they're needed most.
  4. Ask if they're willing to share on facebook, tweet, and email 3 friends when you need them most. Check the corresponding columns in your excel spreadsheet next to their name.
  5. During the campaign, activate the champions who have opted in by emailing and calling them when they're needed most. This allows you to turn the tap on or off, at will.

This strategy works for a couple of reasons; getting those supporters to agree (in advance) to share your campaign when they're needed most will dramatically increase their follow-through rate. It also gives you control over how many people share the campaign and when, which allows you to manage the tempo of the campaign. 

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Focus on Sustainable Recurring Revenue

Are you ready to break out of the cycle of poverty? There's a reason nonprofit development staff have such high burnout rates -- it's because our work is profoundly stressful! We're never sure if we're going to meet our goals, or how donor behavior will change year to year. The solution is building up your recurring donors. This will slowly take the pressure off your development staff, and also profoundly improve your donor relations; instead of constantly hitting your supporters up for donations, you'll be able to focus on reporting impact to monthly supporters.

Experiment Constantly and Don't Overthink!

Lastly, remember that succeeding at online fundraising requires lots of trial and error. You can waste a lot of time overthinking small details, but it's almost always better to just make a quick decision and test it. As humans, we tend to think we have a lot more control over outcomes than we actually do. In reality, fundraising (like sales) is largely a numbers game, and it requires a lot of trial and error to make work. It's better to jump into the water and start practicing than to agonize for hours, weeks, and days over intricacies and possibilities -- many of which won't occur anyway. 

Remember that online campaigns don't have the same hard costs of physical mail appeals or fundraising events, so take advantage of that! Allow yourself and your team to fail, and acknowledge that those are learning experiences that bring you closer to understanding your supporters and succeeding. If you invest the time into experimentation, it will pay off large dividends for you and your nonprofit!

Gratitude to the Idaho Nonprofit Center for organizing!