Social Enterprise Resource Bank

Sustainable Fundraising: Building a Community of Support with the New Generation of Donors

Most nonprofits head right towards those who can give significant amounts: corporations and foundations. Who wouldn’t want to go for the big money? However, it has been said that it takes just as much energy to ask for $10,000 from a corporation as it does $100 from an individual. I know I certainly would want to target the bigger players to reach my fundraising goals faster and be able to implement the mission of the organization. Yet all too often we get so focused on the big shiny object that we don’t realize we are not creating a sustainable fundraising model. 

Not to worry, I am here to help you see how easy it can be to focus on individual donors through storytelling. 

Let’s first understand where donations come from. This will start to create clarity for you as to why individuals are the key to sustainable funding. According to Giving USA, in 2019, just under $450 billion was donated in the U.S. to registered nonprofits. Those funds came from four areas:

  • Corporations: 17%
  • Foundations: 11.4%
  • Bequests: 1.6%
  • Individuals: 70%

As you can see, individuals make up 70 percent of the total, which is roughly $315 billion dollars. When a recession hits, corporation and foundation giving goes down.  Corporations often reduce or cut their community dollars, while foundations generally operate from the interest of their investments, which means they have less to give during a recession. However, individual giving generally goes up during a recession. Are you starting to see how sturdy individual donors can be for an organization?

Now, we need to understand how to build an individual donor base. But not just any individual donor base: one that lasts and keeps going almost on its own.

When starting to build an individual donor base it is important to realize that you will put a lot of effort into it at the beginning and not have a lot to show for it right away. Eventually, it will build momentum and take off. I want to be transparent with you about this because it can trigger the fear of failure rather quickly in some of us. Don’t be concerned if momentum takes a little while to build. Use the slower period to fine-tune, get your systems in place and the machine running smoothly so that when the momentum starts to hit you are ready to handle it.

Three steps to get off the ground:

1. Leverage your current network — start with telling them why this mission is important to you. People want to connect with you, that is why they are part of your network. Ask them to support and be okay with them saying no. You want to weed out those that are not truly interested. Focus on finding the ones who love what you do and want to be a part of it. This will create more momentum.

Need help with making the ask? Check out this article:

2. Once they say yes then you want to keep them engaged. This is a key part that so many nonprofits miss out on. You want to make your donors feel a part of the journey. Share your successes, struggles and real-life experiences that the organization is going through. Let your supporters get to know you and your work intimately, especially as the younger generation becomes the new wave of donors. Don’t be shy about it. When a donor feels engaged and part of the journey, they start telling others about it and they often continue to give. 

We live in a digital age, which means it is easy to connect with your donors quickly and regularly. It is important to keep your messages short, sweet, and real. Here are a few examples:

“Today we visited the site for our upcoming training to empower young girls.  The place is spacious, bright, with an open concept floorplan which allows for more expressive creativity. We are excited to be making another step closer to taking this training to the next level. Check out a few photos we took of the space and notice how playful it feels.” (Maybe include photos of a few people using the space in a playful way.)

“Over the weekend we signed up 20 underserved families for our new organic agriculture program. There was so much buzz and anticipation. One young boy was curious about the composting process and asked if he had to eat it. The look on this face was priceless. How do you feel about compost? Would you eat it?” (Include a picture of some of the families or of compost.)

Basically, you are building a fan/follower base. A good example of this is social media influencer Dean Schneider. Dean built his audience and his funding from sharing the impact of his work in Instagram. You can use whatever platform would be most beneficial for your followers. 

Of course, you need to capture all donor contact information. You want to be communicating and connecting with them frequently, but in bite sizes.  Keep them informed of what is happening as if they were there with you.  This will keep you on their radar and keep them informed.

3. Identify those donors who show a lot of interest and engagement with you and ask them if they would be willing to invite their network to connect. Walk whoever says yes through step one. Keep building from there. Do you see how the wheel keeps going and growing?

Eventually, you will get into a flow once you get the process down.  And the more buzz you give your supporters the more your supporters will create buzz for you.  Take them on the journey with you because they want to be a part of what you are doing, otherwise, they wouldn’t have supported you.

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Kerri-Ann Appleton is a Fundraising Consultant who brings 16 years of experience to the nonprofit sector. Kerri-Ann’s background has given her the expertise to support her clients in creating and implementing sustainable fundraising plans. She specializes in growing and cultivating individual donors.