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Advice for Small Nonprofits: You Can Fundraise BIG in the 21st Century
Written by Craig Morris
Whether you’re new to this or you’ve worked For nonprofits for some time now, Let me assure you…you’re in the right place and you’re here at the right time.
About FundraisingClarity.com
FundraisingClarity.com is a 6-week program built to scale your nonprofit fundraising program and turn it into a machine. Each week includes downloads, samples, and templates plus follow-up Q&A calls and online engagement in the FC community. To learn more including course content, click here.
We’re in unprecedented times right now. Regardless, you need to be fundraising NOW.

You’re in the right place, right now. Your nonprofit needs you.

Fundraising for social services has its own special niche. There are challenges that nonprofits in other fields don’t have to face, such as empathic distress…that’s when a prospect more or less ghosts you because what you fundraise for is too traumatizing for them to really connect with you, and therefore, give. 

And there are other hurdles. For example, fundraising under HIPPA (and just good ethics) disallows us from sharing real photos of clients that would otherwise help donors see their impact. And with how stretched a nonprofits leader's time is, wouldn't it be nice if people just gave you money because what you do is so good and very necessary?

Well, that can happen. But first, you need to get a few things set up correctly. It's work, but it pays off in donations and saves time in the long run. Who doesn't want to be raising more money with less of a time commitment?

More about setting things up the right way.

Up until now, so many courses have just been scratching the surface of what it takes to be a successful fundraiser, focusing on specific tactics and tricks. I remember piecing my fundraising education through so many workshops and conferences and what I learned from books. I learned to test and refine, then test and refine again.

But what I like to do is I dive deep into the psyche of a donor and the psychology behind giving and philanthropy. That also leads to understanding ourselves, which in turn leads to understanding our donors and why they would give to our cause.

I’m sure you know of or have seen so many fundraising vehicles and different ways to raise money for your organization. I have found focus and clarity to be keys to success in raising the money my nonprofit needs. But there is one key to all fundraising tactics that you must have…and this is the most important element to all successful fundraising. I’ll share that in a minute. 

Before all of that, which of these three best describes you?

NEWBIE: This is someone who wants to do good but they're overwhelmed and not sure where to begin. Maybe you're even starting a nonprofit from scratch.

FRAZZLED FUNDRAISER: Do you work for a nonprofit but feel stuck? Perhaps you’re trying new things with moderate success, or even considering switching jobs.

NONPROFIT LEADER: Are you reading this as an executive director or a board or committee member? I know you want to figure out how to raise the most money for your cause, but maybe you're afraid to propose a big goal or make big plans for fear of coming up short.

If ANY of these three things describe you, keep reading! I'm going to go over the following things to get you unstuck, confident about setting rigorous goals, and fundraising like a pro:
I first want to say to anyone reading who is new to fundraising, that even if nobody knows you or your nonprofit, even if you have no special skills or experience as a fundraiser and how to do it without feeling like you’re being pushy, slimy, or feeling like you’re begging, you can be the best fundraiser in your special niche and community…however you define your community.  
Got that? Whether you love fundraising or you hate it, everything you read from this point forward is to get your nonprofit fundraising the way it needs to be fundraising in the 21st century.

Why right now is the time to fundraise (or, better yet, become a professional fundraiser).

The internet has broken down walls.

Technology and the internet has changed the world drastically over the last 10-20 years…a truly short period of time. Fundraising has changed because of these technological advances, and nonprofits have tried to keep up; some have, many have put money into apps and expensive CRMs, but knowing how to use them effectively in today's world is what's needed. And, as you know, the world is changing again, irrevocably. 

The silver lining in all this? The internet has broken down walls AND built bridges. Social distancing does not mean people have to be alone and uncontacted. We can reach virtually anybody through online channels such as Facebook and email with just a smartphone and laptop. And communication is light speed; we can reach for our pocket and respond to donors instantly. The internet advances to make our life easier and arguably better, every day.

And because of constant innovations in the wide-open online market, any NPO, regardless of size and age, can grow their fundraising program without a huge development department or expensive overhead. But at the same time...

The internet has created distance.
Nonprofits by-and-large are run by the very communities they help, and connection is more necessary than ever.  And fundraising, if only transactional, it cannot be sustainable. Nothing will ever eliminate the need for authentic human relationships
The problem is not the internet, it is how we’re using it and the tools it avails to us.

QUESTION: If you had to cut down a tree, would you use a hammer? 🤔

No, of course not. You’d get the proper tool to do the job. The tools are out there. But what I found time and again in nonprofits is the know-how is lacking; not just in using one tool here and there, but how to use the right ones together in our sector as fundraisers in a way that bring people closer to our nonprofit.

THIS IS WHY...even with everything that’s going on and where we’re finding ourselves this year...right now is the best time to be a fundraiser.
I’ve watched the nonprofit sector lag their for-profit counterparts since I began this work more than 20 years ago. It’s not about money…it’s about know-how. Who has the skill to bring the right tools together for your specific niche and community? 

The fundraising paradigm is changing.

And the fundraising paradigm needs to change. What we see now is a crisis presenting an opportunity.

Because the fundraising paradigm IS changing, together, WE must and will lead the future, together. You and your organization, starting now.

But right now people are doing way too much and they THINK they need to be doing all of this and there is just way too much out there to review and read and watch to make fundraising work…
…so many workshops and conferences to attend, new CRMs popping up you wish you had and so many to choose from, and you’re frustrated right now with the one you have, if you have one at all. You have to plan your calendar through months of event preparation and end-of-year holiday giving and don’t forget about #GivingTuesday and also December 31 everyone will want to give a midnight apparently for tax purposes, but don’t forget about the Spring campaign…We think we need to be omnipresent and “casting the widest net. Your boss and other people who mean well think you need to be on Facebook and Instagram, and have a Snapchat filter set up with TikTok ads and be live streaming and posting regularly, and crowdfunding and have a special anniversary campaign, so you need to have that going while you plan your 5k run/walk and upcoming gala…and so on and so on. 😭 

STOP THE MADNESS.

All this craziness is sucking your time and taking you away from what matters. You're pulled from the things you enjoy doing and you're not getting your nonprofit to where you need it to be.

Three things you can do to be a GREAT fundraiser.

Being a great fundraiser today takes a much different approach than it did 20 or even 10 years ago. Some things holds true, such as people tend to give more in the last quarter of the year. However some things have changed, or, just gotten easier. Automation is one of those things and being able to test a campaign and get instant feedback; it's direct response with nuclear power now. Along with having the know-how to leverage today's technology, I've settled on just three things that a person can do to become a really great fundraiser in today's world.

ONE
Transcend Your Mindset

First, you need to take steps to transcend your mindset. We’re all trapped in our heads right now and in order to make the changes necessary for our nonprofit, we first need to look into a mirror and know that WE are the ones who are responsible for making that change.

What is keeping you from getting there, and therefore your nonprofit?

For me, before I chose fundraising as my career some 20 years ago, I had these characteristics I wanted to change because they were hindering me from getting to where I wanted to be:

Social anxiety was one of them, which may sound counterintuitive to being a fundraiser, but that’s what I had to deal with. Like I’m sure you’ve heard the story before, or perhaps you’re among them, but I was outgoing and could relax and be myself around my closest friends, but put me in a group of strangers and I couldn’t cling to the wall enough.

What I wanted to do was become more outgoing like some of the other people I envied who could walk into a room or a group of people and introduce myself. But that wasn’t me--and still isn’t me. However, I learned some things and some skills to overcome my fear. You see, you don’t have to be an extrovert or a “type A” personality to be a fundraiser. That’s a myth. You just need to be smart and willing to learn.

I believe what I’ve become is better than any extrovert because I’m someone who doesn’t care to be the center of attention. I listen to people more, and there is no better way to turn a stranger into a friend than by just being there, listening and hearing them.

I was also a bit of a procrastinator. One hundred percent my own fault, but it was just a behavior that I learned to change. A lot of this also had to do with perfectionism. I could spend way too much time on my intro paragraph to an essay…or even just the outline…before I wrote my first draft. But I unlearned, and then replaced that bad behavior and the things that drove it. I used the knowledge I gained in becoming a cognitive-behavioral therapist on myself to improve myself.

I also used to care way too much about what others thought of me. Today I take criticism with a grain of salt. I listen to it, accept it for what it’s worth, then let it go. I grow when it’s constructive…I’m Teflon when is deconstructive.

This all fed into me being afraid to call people too, even if they were already a donor to my nonprofit. It was ridiculous. And the last thing on this list is about me doubting my own intelligence. I could go on about how I allowed myself to be talked into doubting myself, even after having gotten a college degree, great jobs, a master’s degree, getting recognition from my employers and colleagues, and becoming a certified fundraising executive.

It was like I was looking across a great chasm…seeing what I wanted, but not knowing how to get there.

I overcame that chasm. After accepting the feedback from mentors and proteges and colleagues that I had something huge to offer, I spent two years putting FundraisingClarity.com together.

What is keeping YOU and your organization from getting there? 

Here’s the key I told you about. It’s this diagram. This is the basic diagram of how we transcend our mindset.


On the left is you, your current character and your current situation, and your nonprofit organization. This is you attached to your organization…where you find yourself today. My character back then had these attributes of being someone who was anxious in social situations, lacked confidence in my own intelligence, and so on. This is the character that, if I didn’t change these attributes, would sabotage my dreams and my organization’s future success.  

Think about what you and your organization’s ideal budget is…that is everything you need to accomplish your goals this year. And think about where you want to be in five years. Then ten years.  

What is a fully funded budget? What do you need to pay the best program staff? How many? How much does it cost to have the best tools for your staff to do their best? What kinds of benefits to keep your staff at their peak performance, and not needing to worry about their own personal budgets at home, like paying their rent and mortgage? Do you need a good physical space? How big and where? How about information technology?

The bad news is your current character is not the person who will take you and your organization over the other side of “the chasm.”

This chasm exists between you and your desired state. In order for you to get to the other side of the chasm, you must become your new character. That’s how goals are realized. That’s how your desired state materializes. That’s how you get your nonprofit organization what it needs to accomplish the mission it’s set out to do.

Some people call it “The Secret.” Others will call it something else, like it’s magical and mystic, or like it’s quantum theory to simply materialize on the other side.

It’s actually quite simple once you know how to do it.

Simply stated, there is a mismatch between these two characters, a temporal and spatial, between your current character, which carries a set of beliefs and behaviors that will not and cannot move you and your organization into the desired state and your future character that you define for yourself and your organization. Understand your current character to become your new character. Same for your organization--your cause and your passion--to move into its desired state. That’s fundraising clarity.

Do not minimize the impact changing your own character will have on your nonprofit.


Your organization exists to work a mission towards a vision, or in this diagram its “desired state.” What’s the current state the world is in, and what is your nonprofit’s mission doing to achieve in this new, improved desired state? Whether it’s saving polar bears or curing cancer or making art accessible, ask yourself, what is keeping your nonprofit organization from getting there?  
Don’t let anything get in the way or hold back your organization from working towards its mission. You have a vision you’re working to accomplish. You must first transcend your mindset and become the person who will bring your organization there...and then you're ready to accomplish this second thing:

TWO
Establish a Proof of Case

To be a successful fundraiser for your organization, you must establish a Proof of Case that commands action from people. 

The Proof of Case is powerful. It’s more than a typical case statement about why an organization exists and why they need money. The Proof of Case is a learning document, one that is created by you, then plugged into feedback loops, becomes the connection between the heart of your organization and what your most loyal, committed donors value.

In week one of the FundraisingClarity.com program, we draft our first case in three steps, each step containing just three variable each. We then attach feedback loops to your case and plug them into your fundraising program and campaigns. Then we apply the scientific method and the good ol’ Hegelian Dialectical model to continually improve it, reviewing our metrics and refining our with each pass so that finally we’re predictably converting seemingly cold prospects—total strangers to you and your cause—into generous and loyal donors. 

This is how and when you know you have established your Proof of Case. Fundraisers who have their Proof of Case metrics at their fingertips know when to put a dollar in their fundraising machine so that multiples are returned. This is our ROI, or Return on Investment, and is a number we always keep our eye on so that we know our message resonates and our donors are giving.

We compare the evolution of our Proof of Case to the concept of natural selection. Here, our DNA is made up of the words, numbers, and images in your case, and eventually we have in our hands the best possible combination of those elements to convert prospects into donors. It’s survival of the fittest nonprofit, and your donor community grows stronger as a result. That’s your Proof of Case. 

THREE
Set Up a Repeatable Process

Imagine... people walking up to your organization as if a beacon was guiding them. They were just passing by but are so intrigued by what they see that they walk through your door. There you have someone with a smiling face welcoming them and offering to show them around. They accept and are taken on a tour that blows them away. It’s like the tour guide new exactly what to say to send chills up their spine and make their heart swell. They’re SO inspired they want to get involved somehow, but how? Well, the tour guide offers a menu of options to stay in touch. They make a choice and cannot wait to get started with you!
Imagining something so ideal is not fruitless. By doing such an exercise, and then a lot of theory and practice to test it out, I can see every campaign, every event or gala, and every phone call and donor meeting take place in this five-step sequence. And here it is:
This repeatable, scalable process with interchangeable parts is about getting your organization’s Proof of Case out in front of the RIGHT people who are wanting and willing to donate RIGHT NOW. It is the basic architecture unveiled of any successful campaign, event, and fundraiser.

We as nonprofits spend too much money trying to “cast the widest net.” Behaving in this manner just ends up eating at our budget and frazzling our minds. Without knowing with any certainty that our plan will succeed, we end up with a low ROI.

This process is like a funnel where prospects enter at one side and donations come generous loyal donors out the other. Between each step we count and calculate our conversion rate, this way when we see changes in our ROI, we can look deeper and see which step(s) needs refinement and which to scale. To have a process like this is to have a process that collects solid prospects, pulls them through the funnel, and turns out new donors who are ready for you to embrace them as part of your growing donor community. 

1. Donor Attraction

The first step is to create the beacon that attracts visitors, like in our imagined story above. Notice I said "attract." We're pulling people who are attracted by what we're doing, not pushing out a bunch of letters or email blasts. We're also not passive. We're not just building a website with a donation button on it and hoping they will come. Think stimulus-response. We need to come up with, then test and refine, the best stimulus to get the desired response.

You first exhaust organic donor attraction methods: these are free ways to attract people to your cause. This is how we test our case to establish our Proof of Case and have the best possible message that converts. Once we establish our Proof of Case, we can then "pour gas" on our case using paid donor attraction methods because we are confident they will convert and have an ROI.

EXAMPLE: Paid Facebook Ad

As for paid donor attraction methods go, right now Facebook is the number one place to get donors for your organization. There has never been an easier time to target the “perfect donor” online for so little money.

We know we’re targeting people interested in ending domestic violence and we’ve done our research and added the perfect image. We know it works after doing some “natural selection” testing, and it’s this testing and refinement that makes our ad powerful.

2. Warm Welcome

Step two is the warm welcome, and the best example in an online world is a landing page. A landing page is a website--clear and concise--to where your ad brings people. In our imagination exercise, this is like your visitors walking through your door and being greeted by a smiling face, offering them a tour. You’ve already welcomed them in and now you’re going to wow them with a tour of your Proof of Case, step three.

Warning: Don’t send your visitors to the home page on your website...that's like someone opening the doors to your organization and rather than being greeted by a smiling face, they're find themselves in the middle of a cubicle farm with multiple people talking about their programs and their surrounded by doors going to all sorts of places, like your history and staff list and job openings and so on. This is just leading them into the abyss, and they'd rather turn around and walk out.

A landing page addresses the reason your donor is there in the first place…and it directs them to the next step in the process. It's also something that can be tailored to any campaign or event, and can be given for prospects to refer to offline as well as online. 

An online landing page is not the be-all tactic in this step of this process. It is however very easy to set up, duplicate, and design to match your campaign. People are used to buying and donating online, and virtually everybody has access to your online landing page in their pocket, eliminating the need to write down phone numbers and email addresses and follow up later, when this can be done right now, online, uploaded into your database and automated to follow up and trigger you to take action.

3. Proof of Case

You can present this step any number of ways. Depending on your target audience, you could entice them with a case study to read through. At a live event, this would be a speech or presentation. In direct response mail, this would be a well-developed marketing piece. Online, I prefer the most effective method the internet allows us to offer, and that is your Proof of Case presented through a value video.

EXAMPLE: Value Video

A value video is a 5- to 10-minute video where you provide value to your prospect in the form of a training or informational video. We say something like, “You want to end domestic violence…here’s how…” and then provide them with useful information to prove we know what we’re talking about. Then we end with CTA, which can be asking them to engage with us. Common options are to volunteer, donate, make a purchase, or, something more of us need to be doing, set up a call with us.

You can record this video using PowerPoint or Keynote and a free screen recording software in less than one hour’s time. It’s remarkably simple and easy to do.

4. Engagement Options

Then, as if you were giving a tour of your organization and you offered people ways to stay in touch, you conclude the video in this example with engagement options. By this point they’ve already decided they want to engage in some sort of relationship with you. Now you give options as to how they make that first step.

If we were to compare fundraising to dating, here they’re giving you their phone number or email. They could of course also donate, volunteer, or make a purchase if you have an online store or provide a quid pro quo-type situation. 

EXAMPLE: Calendar Scheduling

What too few of us do but must become obligatory in the 21st century is offering prospects and donors the ability to schedule a call. 

Here we use a custom scheduling software tool so our prospects can see our current availability and schedule a time with us right away without any tedious back and forth between us. This reduces unnecessary friction and makes it easy for your prospects to schedule a time with YOU. And it saves you a ton of time.
 
This is how we convert video viewers to scheduled appointments with no more effort than setting this process up one time and turning it on.
5. The Donor Experience

At this point you can use the FundraisingClarity.com Donor Conversion Script and this final step, the donor experience.

I remember working with a family who collaborated to make annual donations in the community and decide where to volunteer and give their money. They felt blessed to have the wealth they had, so created a small family foundation where they would get together quarterly for meetings of the foundation. While they spread their time and money around the community, there was always one charity, that when they came up on the agenda, the kids and adults alike would smile and be so excited to talk about them and what they’d do for them that year. I’m telling you right now that this happens inside the head of every donor in microseconds, whether they be a family foundation like this one, a corporate foundation, or an individual…they smile when their favorite special charity comes to mind.

Be THAT charity. 

Become the organization that when you’re brought up in conversation around the dinner table or at a party or wherever, people smile at each other and talk about how great you are. And you DO that by purposefully creating a donor experience.  How? Well, organizations make it much harder on themselves than they have to. They even self-sabotage, unknowingly, by thinking so much about getting the donation, that they neglect the people who DO give or those who are on the CUSP of giving.
 
What is the ultimate donor experience ?

There are many, obvious and common ways to provide value to donor in exchange for their gift, whether it’s tangible or not. And those are great…they have their time and place. However, there are three things, that if you can hit all three of these, you’ll identify your most loyal donors who will stick with you through when times get tough.  To them you will be indispensable.

You’ll even end up in their will.

Those three things you need to create loyalty in your donors are community, identity, and purpose. That’s providing the ultimate donor experience. (The donor experience is covered in great detail in week six of the FundraisingClarity.com program.)
 
To put it simply, great fundraisers don’t ask for donations…they sell futures.

​The Fundraising Formula underpinning every campaign.

Case x Donations = Impact

Your case is laid out. When your Proof of Case is established, you know this variable is strong. It's also a multiplier of donations, in size and number. Clearly, the stronger your case, the more impact you’ll have. So why not maximize both your case AND your donations?

To understand how to maximize impact, we must break this formula down.
The Fundraising Formula
The need you’ve identified as to why your nonprofit exists multiplies your solution and the overall health of your NPO to get your case (this is covered in detail in week one of the FundraisingClarity.com program.) Every nonprofit exists to fulfill a need that’s not met by the free market. 

For example, helping abused children isn’t something you sell like an iPhone, which does sell quite well on the free market. Or nonprofit theaters when the art they’re “selling” isn’t covered by ticket sales alone. So here in this formula, the greater your need is perceived by people and the more solid your solution is spelled out, multiplied by the overall strength of your organization, the stronger your case is. 

What about donations? Prospects times experience equals donations. That is, the higher the number and quality of your prospects multiplies the experience they have that you provide yields a greater total in donations. We want to be smart about increasing both the number and quality of your prospects, which is why I teach my clients how to get donors to self-identify, as donor self-identification hands you over only those who have expressed interest in what you're doing.

More on the donor experience. 

Being able to maximize a donor's experience requires getting inside their head and understanding what makes them tick. To do this you need to do some research. And once you learn what that is and how to deliver it, you’ll know you’ve got this down because you'll be able to tell give them what they want before they can even tell you.

Unfortunately, the donor experience is a variable in the formula only lightly considered by most nonprofits today. To get fundraising clarity, we get donors to tell us what will push them over the edge when they’re just considering donating to our organization.  And this brings us back to why we build feedback loops into our fundraising program!

Science + Therapy + Fundraising = FUNDRAISING CLARITY

I created FundraisingClarity.com for two primary reasons. First, because it's too easy for a nonprofit leader to become frazzled by their responsibilities, let alone all the various fundraising methods and tactics we're being told we need to employ to succeed. The madness only dilutes our efforts, kills our morale, and lowers ROI. Is there any wonder turnover in this profession is so high? The second reason I decided to start this business and program was because I overcame imposter syndrome and was finally convinced I had something to offer. With 25 years of nonprofit experience, 16 years in fundraising, two degrees that dunked me in social science research methods, and having helped so many as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I became an international fundraising consultant. Once I began combining all that with mentoring so many young and upcoming fundraising stars, I decided it was time to launch FundraisingClarity.com.

If you have any questions about this article or the six-week program, comment below or email me at craigmorris@fundraisingclarity.com. I also offer a free seven-day trial if you'd like to jump in and learn more about starting or RE-starting your nonprofit fundraising program.
Updated October 2020

WRITTEN BY
Craig Curtis Morris

Cognitive-behavioral therapist, social scientist, and international fundraising consultant rendering the nonprofit sector powerful through training and coaching at FundraisingClarity.com.
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