Small charities are near and dear to my heart. They tend to be more agile and nimble. The small team of staff and volunteers usually have their hands directly involved in the work. There’s a lot of passion.
There are so many strengths, but often smaller charities aren’t as good at using those strengths to their advantage in fundraising.
Everyone needs to fundraise. That’s not negotiable. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go out and ask for the money. Some people love to do that and are good at that. Remember, the ask is such a small part of the fundraising cycle. Most volunteers and staff have other strengths that you can (and should) leverage.
Regardless of your size, here are some ideas inspired by small charities that can help you run a better and more integrated program.
Some charities struggle with mail. It can be expensive and time-consuming. If you’re only mailing 1,000 donors, for example, then it’s likely to do your mailing cheaper in-house than to farm it out. Let’s see that as an opportunity.
I recently penned a letter for a fundraising campaign for the Ten Oaks Project. I personally knew many of the people on the list that were mailed. What I wasn’t anticipating was how many reached out to me afterwards and told me how much they loved the little hand-drawn hearts on the back of the outer envelope.
Now, I can’t take credit for that. That was the staff and volunteers. It was totally their idea. This unexpected touch was what really stood out for donors and compelled them to open the envelope. And we all know the biggest thing in direct marketing is to get your donor to open the envelope.
Whether it’s a drawing on the envelope, a handwritten note on the letter, or a photograph of a program in action, think about the things you can do to show that you’re paying attention and trying to connect with the donor in a more direct way.
What small personal touches can you use to make your mail stand out?
Note for larger charities: one idea could be to have envelopes for loyal or mid-level donors returned to you from the mail house to add in an element of delight.
People like to communicate with people. The best emails and letters donors receive sound as if they’re written by another human being and not an organization. Give some thought to the voice or voices you use. Tip: it should rarely be your Executive Director or leader.
Here’s where you can shine. As a smaller organization, you have the capacity to engage your people to share their stories and experiences. You can use an authentic voice to personally connect a donor to your cause. You can bring them into your story. You can be more than an intermediary.
When crafting communications, or editing communications someone else has written, make sure it sounds like something you’d write to a friend. Don’t make it forced. Find an authentic voice.
Here’s an example of a lead-in to an email that I would consider to be more institutional in tone.
Today is World Food Day. It is not a celebration but a reminder, created by the United Nations, that there are still 1 billion people in the world that will go to bed hungry tonight. And far too many of them will be children.
Now, what does this read like if we re-write it?
This morning, were you hungry when you woke up? Did you fix yourself a bowl of cereal or whip up some scrambled eggs?
This morning, young Arthur woke up hungry. He went to bed hungry, woke up hungry and will spend the rest of the day at school hungry.
When you and I get hungry, we grab something to eat. Arthur can’t. Because when he goes to the fridge there isn’t any food. He’s one of the 1 billion people in the world that will go hungry today...on World Food Day.
I cannot tell you how much it angers me that in this world of embarrassing riches so many children like Arthur do not have enough to eat.
See what happened in that re-write? Create a voice that helps your cause stand out in the crowd.
While your communications team may like things to be all fancy-schmancy, donors don’t. Simply put, the slicker your communications material look, the more likely a donor is to interpret that you’re wasting their money. They give to the cause and that’s where they want their money to go.
Create products that look good, but not too good. This is not to say that you should put clip art on everything or use Comic Sans, but don’t worry so much about having the best design. Good enough totally works here.
Since you’re no longer going to spend copious amounts of time creating the best looking letters or emails, you now have a bit more time to invest in what really matters to donors. Impact.
Use your phone to capture a video of your program in action. Have kids create art for thank you cards. Take amazing photographs to share on your Instagram or Facebook page. Have a program participant call a donor to say thank you. Collect the best stories of how what you do has changed a life. Invite people for a real life or virtual tour.
What small charities can do successfully (and usually easily) is to tell the stories from the field of real impact and real change. As a small charity, you can make sure the donor can actually touch the cause.
Sometimes smaller charities with working boards struggle with getting board members to fundraise. This is most commonly because people assume that raising funds means asking for money. It doesn’t always (again see note above on the cycle of giving).
This is a lesson I learned from my late wife who refused to fundraise when we sat on a board together. She didn’t want to ask people for money.
But when asked to call a donor to say thank you, she would. When asked to write thank you notes, she would. When asked to help pick up donations for a fundraising event, she would. When asked to edit a letter or write website copy around donating she would. When asked to come up with a case around why donor support was required, she’d happily craft it. She’d also happily talk about the organization and share stories of impact when asked. She was a brilliant ambassador, constantly bringing in new donors simply through her love and enthusiasm for the cause.
Most of the fundraising happens behind the scenes. It’s about relationships. It’s all of the support around what needs to happen to make the ask possible.
Case in point, my wife was really good at raising money...even when she never directly asked someone to give.
So there you have it. Some ideas to help spark your fundraising efforts. What are you going to do next?
Although Holly Wagg had an 8-track player in her childhood bedroom, she doesn’t consciously remember a time where you couldn’t fundraise without the internet. Holly has worked in the sector for more than 20 years, and is now Partner and Head Counsel with Good Works, an integrated fundraising and communications agency that builds human connections between donors, causes and charities. You can reach her at email@example.com.