11 Ideas for Nonprofit Fundraising [+FAQs]

11 Nonprofit Fundraising Strategies to Support Your Mission

If you are connected to a nonprofit organization, you are well aware that raising funds for the cause is an essential and ongoing challenge. Connecting with people who will consider supporting your cause or organization — and convincing them to contribute — requires strategic planning, passion for the mission, and hard work.

It is true that fundraising for nonprofits can be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to energize your outreach, increase your volume of donations and have fun while doing it. 

Below, we will take a closer look at 11 fundraising ideas for nonprofits and offer some strategy tips for fundraising success. (For those interested in a more comprehensive overview of the nonprofit fundraising landscape, the University of San Diego also offers an excellent online course titled “Introduction to Nonprofit Fundraising.”)

What is Nonprofit Fundraising?

At the most basic level, of course, nonprofit fundraising refers to gathering money and resources for nonprofit and charitable organizations.

Kindful, a company that helps nonprofits raise funds more effectively, describes nonprofit fundraising as “the ongoing process of soliciting donations or voluntary funds to help your organization grow and meet the needs of the community you serve.”

Bottom line: “Donations are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization,” says Kindful. “Nonprofit fundraising allows your organization to fund its mission, pay overhead costs, develop educational programs, and make improvements that will benefit future clients who utilize your services.”

Deciding how to fundraise for a nonprofit means gaining a thorough understanding of the different strategies available to you, determining which ones are best aligned with your organization and its goals, and then developing a strategy that will likely involve multiple activities.

Nonprofit Fundraising Ideas

Here is a brief overview of 11 of the most common and effective fundraising ideas for nonprofits.

1. Direct mail

Let’s start with a strategy that’s been around forever but that is still essential to the fundraising efforts of most nonprofits. According to Double the Donation, direct mail fundraising:

  • Was, until recently, was one of the most popular ways to donate
  • Is still important because it helps your organization establish a personal connection with current and potential future donors
  • Is often preferred by donors who may be older and prefer a traditional giving method

Double the Donation offers fundraising guidance for those interested in direct mail fundraising, including details on best practices and how to get started.

2. Online solicitation

Today, nearly all nonprofits also solicit donations online. Online fundraising activities can be undertaken through your website, social media, a crowdfunding site, etc.

According to HubSpot, online fundraising “serves as the primary donation method for most other fundraising tactics. And even if your donors don’t hear about your fundraiser online first, there's still a large chance they'll end up visiting your website to learn more and make their donation online.”

Nonprofit organizations that raise funds through their website typically create a compelling, user-friendly page on their website to both inspire visitors to donate and to make the process of doing so as seamless as possible.

3. Social media fundraising

An important part of fundraising through social media is to be sure your organization is not always fundraising on social media.

Social media is first and foremost an essential, wide-reaching vehicle to tell your story in ways that help current donors feel connected to and supportive of what you do, as well as to attract new supporters.  

While the storytelling piece is invaluable, social media is also an important and fast-growing way to make direct appeals for support.

As HubSpot points out, “Facebook allows individuals to run fundraisers on their news feed and for their birthdays. The platform has also released a “Donate Now” button for organization’s Pages. On Instagram, you can share a URL in your bio that takes your followers directly to your fundraising site/web page.”

The easy shareability made possible through social media is also a powerful means of amplifying the impact of your nonprofit fundraising campaigns. 

4. Mobile phone-driven donations

Now that 96% of Americans have a mobile phone (and a high percentage of those are probably holding them in their hands right now!), fundraising through mobile devices is growing in popularity. This is partly because new strategies continue to emerge for leveraging the powerful communication capabilities made possible by text messaging.

Network for Good, is a company that offers guidance and technology support for online and mobile phone fundraising, including specific strategies designed to “reach potential supporters wherever they are with text messages.” They quote one nonprofit exec as saying, “We used texting for the first time just recently and it generated way more money than we could have imagined!”

5. Pledge fundraising

A key distinguishing characteristic of pledge fundraising is that campaigns are often built around engaging donors to help you raise a specific amount by a specific date for a specific purpose.

Most notably, “a pledge campaign is one that accepts pledges of promised support at a later time instead of the actual funds immediately,” according to Get Fully Funded, whose web page full of pledge campaign info and ideas includes the following insights:

  • Pledge campaigns “tend to do best in situations attached to a sense of urgency (disaster aid, advocacy work, unexpected costs)”
  • It is important to establish “emotional connection between the potential donor and your message”
  • Your level of success will be closely tied to how easy you make it for donors to contribute (a “user experience” tip that also applies to other fundraising strategies)

6. Major gifts

Different organizations have different yardsticks for what constitutes a “major gift.” For some, the threshold may be $1,000; for others, it may be $10,000 or even much higher.

“The reality is that a small number of donors have the potential to make up a large part of your overall giving total,” notes Network for Good, adding that:

  • A major gifts program takes time and commitment.
  • Major donors need to be cultivated one at a time.
  • Major donors typically have specific reasons for giving to your organization; so understanding their motivation is key.

One of those motivations, whether we’re talking about major gifts or other donations, is often the ability to write off the charitable donation on one’s tax returns. In addition to cash, major gifts may take the form of stocks, real estate or other assets.

7. Matching gifts

The most common form of matching gifts involves programs run by companies to amplify (or essentially double) charitable donations made by employees. The primary motivation for such corporate giving programs is typically to support the company’s identity as a good corporate citizen that is generous about supporting charitable initiatives.

How it works: “After a donor makes a contribution, they can submit paperwork to their company’s HR department,” according to Double the Donation. “If the donation and your nonprofit are eligible, they will cut a check to your nonprofit for the same amount as the initial donation.”

For nonprofits, it is important to take an active role in the matching gift landscape. Not all donors will realize their company offers this and many may need a nudge to fill out the paperwork required to trigger the process.

8. Volunteer and corporate grants

Volunteer and corporate grants fall under the heading of charitable initiatives often embraced by corporations. HubSpot notes that some companies “give volunteer grants when their employees have volunteered a certain number of hours. This encourages employees to donate their time and holds businesses accountable for charitable giving. Volunteering can serve as a great team (or company) outing, too.”

Corporate grants are donations that some companies make either directly to an organization or through a process that involves choosing from among a pool of grant applicants. For obvious reasons, nonprofits will want to be on the lookout for corporate grant and volunteer-related opportunities. Learn more about matching gifts at DonorSearch.

9. In-kind donations

The term “in-kind gifts” describes non-cash contributions that can include goods, services, time and expertise. Examples include:

  • Free or discounted services
  • Food, clothing or tangible items unique to a charitable organization’s needs
  • The use of venue to support a nonprofit’s mission
  • Etc.

In-kind donations often come from companies with whom the nonprofit has an existing connection. However, they may also be generated by reaching out to a relevant organization to help fill a specific need (for example, conducting a DJ or band provide music for a charitable event, or a florist to supply some flowers). Learn more about in-kind donations gifts at MissionBox.

10. Event-based fundraising

Who could forget the viral Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for the fight against ALS? That highly successful twist on event-based fundraising reportedly raised over $100 million for the cause.

Gala gatherings, charity auctions and road races are more common examples of event-based fundraising. Others include:

  • Road races and walk-a-thons
  • Golf tournaments
  • Talent shows
  • Fashion shows
  • Raffles
  • “Jail and bail” events
  • Workout challenges
  • Contests and games
  • Dance-a-thons
  • Comedy shows
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Car washes
  • Concerts
  • Casino nights
  • And more

11. Annual campaigns

This one is a little different than the ideas and strategies cited above. As noted by Double the Donation, while other campaigns often focus on specific initiatives or applications, “Donations made to an annual campaign help keep a nonprofit running. Annual fund donations pay for salaries, office supplies, marketing materials, and equipment.”

Annual campaign donations can come from checks, online contributions, text message donations and other channels. Key annual campaign fundraising tips from Double the Donation include:

  • An annual campaign is an ongoing process, so the work never really stops.
  • Be sure to highlight how your contributors’ donations will help your organization further its mission.
  • Get everyone involved — annual campaigns require organization-wide support from your board members, other leadership and everyone on your team.

Outreach for annual campaigns can include direct mail, email appeals, telephone; basically any and all fundraising strategies and communication channels may be used. In its guide to annual fund giving, Double the Donation also suggests conducting your annual campaign on the same schedule each year. This creates familiar patterns for ongoing contributors and “helps nonprofits know when supporters will donate and roughly how much they will give.”

Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy Tips

Donorbox offers comprehensive strategy advice for nonprofit fundraising success, including these 20 tips:

  • ??Make a plan
  • Make a timeline
  • Build a budget
  • Know your audience
  • Use a variety of strategies
  • Be consistent
  • Invest in a fundraising platform
  • Ask for help
  • Make it easy
  • Make it personal
  • Be specific and direct
  • Use positive language
  • Show impact
  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Use compelling imagery
  • Follow up
  • Offer recurring donation options
  • Track donations
  • Show your appreciation
  • Engage your volunteer base

Nonprofit Fundraising FAQs

Q: What is nonprofit fundraising?

A: Kindful, a company that helps nonprofits raise funds more effectively, describes nonprofit fundraising as “the ongoing process of soliciting donations or voluntary funds to help your organization grow and meet the needs of the community you serve.”

Q: What are the rules/regulations around nonprofit fundraising?

A: Nonprofits and charitable organizations are governed by an elaborate set of legal requirements and related rules. The U.S government provides detailed information on nonprofit rules and regulations and 501(c)(3) basics. The Council for Nonprofits offers a helpful resource covering state-specific rules and guidelines

Q: What is the best nonprofit fundraising strategy?

A: Ultimately, the best nonprofit fundraising strategy may vary greatly depending on the unique characteristics, needs and goals of your organization. Nonprofit leaders are encouraged to align their fundraising strategy with their best understanding of how their mission aligns with potential donors and the fundraising landscape in their particular sector.

Q: What other opportunities are there to learn more about nonprofit fundraising?

A: Well, we’re a little biased on this question because the University of San Diego and its Division of Professional & Continuing Education offers an excellent, 100% online Introduction to Nonprofit Fundraising course that is ideal for nonprofit sector employees, current and prospective board members, and professionals looking to transition into the nonprofit sphere.  

This report is presented by the University of San Diego and its Division of Professional & Continuing Education.

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