December 7, 2015

Step-by-Step Guide to Cultivating a Community For Fundraising

As we enter into the biggest fundraising time of the year, I’m reminded that community is more important than ever in reaching new audiences and meeting fundraising goals. Many of you are looking for ways to gain exposure, and cultivating a vibrant community is the answer to that. Read more from our step-by-step guide.

If you were a fly on the wall in any large brand’s boardroom, you’d hear the word “community” at least a dozen times. Fostering a community is high on the list of priorities of many top-level executives today because it builds a loyal customer base.

As a nonprofit, it should rank high on your list too, because the stronger your community is, the more trust they’ll have in your nonprofit. And the more trust they have, the more they’ll want to donate to see your cause flourish, or even better, become fundraisers through peer-to-peer fundraising.

Therefore, fostering and growing a loyal community for your nonprofit is key to your fundraising success. So, what exactly is a community, and how do you get the most out of it?

What Is a Community?

A few years ago, that word probably brought to mind a small social group who all share government and a common geographical location. However, with the rise of that great thing called the Internet, “community” has taken on a whole new meaning.

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Today, most discussions of community refer to an online community—a group of people that shares common interests and that uses the Internet to communicate. Of course, these people probably communicate about causes they’re passionate about in person, as well, but the online statistics are much easier for nonprofits to gather and measure.

Shower Strike, a crowdfunding campaign for clean water, includes the hashtag #showerstrike in their social media posts. Shower Strike supporters and followers also use the hashtag in their posts, which helps drive easier discovery on social media and more brand awareness.

Shower Strike has cultivated a great relationship with their supporters, to the point where supporters post about their cause and urge others to join in by raising funds and going on their own shower strike.

You, too, can foster an engaged and flourishing fundraising community around your own cause.

Not sure where to start? Let’s jump right in!

Understanding Your Community

Before you can successfully figure out how to connect with or grow your existing community, you first need to understand what makes them tick. What resonates with them? What doesn’t? What methods are they using to communicate? What are some of their problems or challenges?

Gaining insight into the inner workings of your community can seem complex and overwhelming, but there are a few different tactics you can use to get some insider knowledge.

  1. Research

Step one should include rolling up your sleeves and doing some good old-fashioned digging to find out more about your audience. Check out your Google Analytics and social media insights to discover their online behaviors. Look back through their old conversations related to your community to find out what they’re saying. Throw out a few different “test balloons” to see what performs well with them.

Put on your detective hat and see what information you can hunt down!

  1. Listen and Observe

In order to cultivate a booming community, you need to be constantly monitoring all related conversations and posts. Use social media tracking tools that will notify you when someone has posted about one of your selected keywords or handles. Set up Google Alerts so that you can easily collect important blog posts, videos, and news articles.

Just being alerted when someone uses your hashtag could help you keep tabs on how awareness is spreading and who’s included in your community. When Project Aware’s hashtag was used, they were able to see the traction they were gaining in the diving community.

Perhaps most importantly, always take feedback (and even those hard-to-hear criticisms) from your supporters for consideration. Respond in a timely manner to let them know they’ve been heard.

  1. Inquire

Of course, if you have specific questions for your community, feel free to ask them. Whether you inquire about how you could be telling your story better or how frequently they’d like to hear from you, that insight from your target audience is incredibly valuable information.

There are tons of different tools and platforms you can use to talk with your community, including social media, email newsletters, and surveys. Get out there and ask them all of your burning questions! Your engaged community members will be happy to answer.

Tools to Connect with Your Community

Once you’ve gained some insight into the nitty gritty of your community, it’s time to put your new knowledge to good use in order to start effectively connecting with them and moving them up the engagement ladder.

What exactly does it mean to “connect” with your community? As consumers, we don’t want advertising anymore. We want conversation. We don’t want megaphones and billboards. We want relationships.

You’re probably familiar with many of the platforms you can utilize in order to form lasting relationships with your community members. But perhaps you aren’t using them as best you could. We’ve broken down some ways to use each of the common methods below.

Email

  • Create a 3-part welcome series for new supporters: each email should provide new information or content, ending with a low-lift action
  • Segment your email list into fundraisers, donors, non-donors, recurring donors, those who have taken other actions, etc., and target content specifically to them
  • Incentivize donors to become fundraisers by offering to send them exclusive updates and opportunities
  • Craft a survey asking how people would like to engage with you via email and online
  • Put all subscribers who respond to your emails or send you emails into their own group for follow-up and continued engagement

Social Media

  • Make use of lists, filters, and streams in Twitter management tools to monitor and engage with more active supporters (those who RT you, mention you, and answer your questions)
  • Provide opportunities for engaged social media supporters to be “ambassadors” for your cause, to share content, recruit others, and take action
  • Look for quick and easy ways to collect information and feedback from your social community—one-question surveys, polls, votes, etc.
  • Recognize donors and fundraisers by tweeting them thank yous, and retweeting them!

Website

  • After taking an action like donating or signing a petition, a thank you or follow-up page should provide more information and a next step
  • Strategically place share buttons, donation widgets, email sign-ups, etc. in and around content where it makes sense for a user to take action
  • Consider if blog comments and discussion boards are right for your site, depending on the engagement you want
  • Provide exclusive opportunities and content on your website for those who “unlock” certain sections by sharing, viewing, or commenting

Events

  • Find out if any of your community members live close to your geographical area, and set up an event to meet and get to know one another
  • Inform your community of any in-person volunteering opportunities they can help out with, strengthening their connection to your cause

Growing Your Community

Of course, your existing fundraising community is fantastic. But, as a nonprofit, you’re always looking for ways to grow, evolve, and expand your reach. Obviously you don’t want the size of your community to stagnate.

One of your goals should be to continuously grow and nurture your fundraising community. Establishing your existing audience was challenging enough, and finding ways to add to that pool of people can seem impossible. Have no fear! Here are a few tips and tools you can employ to constantly expand your community.

  1. Strong Foundation

It’s hard to convince people that they should care about your mission if you have no idea how to even explain it to them. Before attempting to grow your community, you need to have a solid foundation to build on. Take some time to get your ducks in a row.

Make sure you have a functioning website in place. Confirm that you have someone on staff that can address concerns and questions. And definitely ensure that you can eloquently—and briefly—explain your mission and background. Think of it as crafting the perfect “elevator pitch” for your nonprofit!

  1. Events and Outreach

Events are not only great for connecting with your current community, but also for attracting new supporters and potential community members.

The Gauntlet, a crowdfunding campaign by Mox Boarding House, created a Facebook page to engage a core group of advocates within their community.

Mox Boarding House decided to do a fundraising event where different teams would compete in various board games, with one winner ultimately taking “the gauntlet” home. They decided that, after teams raised a certain amount of funds, they would get various advantages in the games.

This was a great way of incentivizing a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign while also creating an event that catered to the interests of their community.

Through the community that Mox Boarding House built, they were able to surpass their fundraising goal of $30,000—by more than 3 times. This powerhouse community was able to raise $92,088 to feed families in need.

Pinpointing the event that would most interest your community will help get old and new supporters invested in your campaign, and utilizing peer-to-peer fundraising is a great way to expand your reach. Engaging your supporters to fundraise on your behalf will help them feel they are making a difference beyond just donating.

Ask your existing members to do some outreach of their own and bring new people to your events and meet-ups. Join a local association and attend their get-togethers in order to network with new people. You can wait for people to find you—or, you can be proactive and find them yourself.

  1. Powerful Content

Remember the phenomenon of KONY 2012, Invisible Children’s effort to raise awareness of war criminal Joseph Kony? The cause absolutely exploded on social media.

What made this so organically shareable? Quite simply, it was an incredibly powerful story. Nothing’s stopping you from creating powerful content of your own. So share some wonderful narratives from your own nonprofit. Ask supporters how your cause has touched them. Start gathering sound bites and quotes to put together some amazing, shareable content of your own.

  1. Provide a Toolkit

One of the best ways to get your supporters to be advocates for your cause, and thereby gather new supporters, is to provide a toolkit loaded with branded content for your supporters to both inform themselves and share.

In this toolkit, you’ll want to provide a variety of items such as:

  • Campaign One-Sheet
  • Images and Logos
  • Social Media Tips
  • Sample Emails, Press Releases, and Letters
  • Printable Promotional Materials
  • Recognition Tools
  • Fundraising Tips

By equipping your supporters, you create leaders that can recruit more people to support your cause. Additionally, since you are providing the materials, you know that your mission is being conveyed the way you want it to be expressed.

5.  Have A Clear Call To Action

Imagine you’re someone new to your organization: your friend sent you a link to a campaign or website and you click on it. Can you tell, very clearly, what your organization wants them to do? Should they volunteer? Sign up to be a fundraiser? Spread awareness on social media? Come to an event? Donate? Clarifying what the next step for your supporters drives action.

Once you know what you want the bulk of your community to do, don’t be afraid to ask. Take this example from Neverthirst’s Facebook, after they set up their WOD for Water campaign’s mission in previous posts:

Even if you weren’t familiar with Neverthirst’s mission to provide clean water to those without access to it, their call to action is unmistakably clear and compelling: give now and have double the impact.

Here’s a few tips on how to create a compelling call to action:

  • Summarize: Provide a brief, one sentence summary of the online fundraising campaign itself
  • Use Powerful Action Language: Instead of suggesting they donate, be sure to convey the impact of their donation and use action words such as “Donate” “Help” “Share” “Volunteer”
  • Create A Sense Of Urgency: Using “Donate Now” language and referencing the time-sensitiveness of your efforts will move people to take immediate action (e.g., “Donate now to provide school supplies to kids in need so they’ll be ready to learn by Sept 1st!”)

Cultivating your community can undoubtedly be a challenge. After all, it’s about nurturing human relationships—not just upping the numbers on your email subscriber list. The task can seem daunting and intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be insurmountable. Put these tips to work and start growing a community that’s ready to make a difference!

P.S.: Looking for ways to transition your GivingTuesday campaign into year-end giving? Check out our guide here.

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Rob Wu
Rob Wu is the CEO of CauseVox, a crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising platform for nonprofits and social good projects. Rob has raised over $200,000 for his own social good crowdfunding projects, and his work has been recognized by the Mayor of Austin and featured in the NYTimes, CNN, Christian Science Monitor, and WSJ.