Tag: fundraising strategy

You’ve seen articles with titles like “Top Ten Technology Trends For Nonprofits in 2019,” promoting artificial intelligence, automation, hyper-personalized content, and other buzzwords. Yet the reality is that we are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to our priorities.

What really brought things into focus for me was a recent workshop I did with my local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. We put on a one-day seminar on donor retention, using the free tools of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. In the workshop, we looked to identify the ways that nonprofits are losing donors, and how to address that in real, practical, and data-driven ways.

The dozen or so people in the room were savvy with articulating their mission, had a passion for data (they did sign up for a full day on donor retention), but still articulated issues they had around data management.

That’s when it hit me. We are being led toward solutions that answer problems that aren’t real problems yet for the vast majority of nonprofits. The root cause of our fundraising struggles isn’t lack of tools that will automate things for us. The issue is low-quality data on our donors.

Bad data costs your organization a lot of money

Low quality and mismanaged data costs organizations a lot of money. In the United States, it is estimated that bad data costs $3 trillion per year. It costs an organization $1 to verify a record upon entry, $10 to dedupe and clean data AFTER input, and $100 per bad record if nothing is done.

The average nonprofit is using between three to five different data systems to complete their daily workload. In practical terms, we typically see organizations using at least one (if not more!) digital fundraising tool that is loaded manually or haphazardly into their donor management system and then reconciled with their email marketing and accounting systems.

Good intentions don’t generate good data

There is concrete data that shows the top reason a donor stops giving to your organization is because of inadequate communication. Retention rates are dropping across the industry, with the organizational average being 46% and new donor retention rates nearly half that rate.

A common suggestion is to address the problem through “personalizing content” and “building a culture of philanthropy” through donor-centered messaging. Yet these are tactical applications that need to be applied once the root cause of bad data is addressed.

With the average technology budget for nonprofits coming in at 5.7% of overall operational expenses, there will be pressure to have that technology perform more efficiently and effectively for the organization. Focusing in on what will generate both immediate revenue as well as long- term growth is where we can begin to address the retention losses we are seeing industry-wide.

Data stewardship needs to come first

When I worked at a school in Chicago, we held a donor gratitude event. I printed name tags using the information from our donor management system and walked around the party when I noticed a woman had used a marker to cross out the name on her tag and write her nickname. I immediately ran upstairs and updated that field on her record, so we’d always refer to her by her preferred name.

If we begin to integrate process adjustments like this into our organization’s data management, we will begin shifting toward a model of data stewardship that will have major impact on our ability to communicate and excite our donor base. Small ways to begin this process can be:

Okay, NOW you can automate

Good data means we have done the hard work on understanding our relationship with our donors and other supporters. It takes time, analysis, and quick thinking to do this properly and we need to provide more education to our community on proper data management best practices and the right tools to get clean and accurate data in the first place.

Of course we should have conversations on how to then engage our donors around increasingly sophisticated content to engage and retain them. As NTEN’s 2018 Digital Outlook Report shows, organizations are beginning to invest more in donor-centered experiences for their website, video content, social media, and more. This should be encouraged and supported, but not at the expense of ensuring that fundraisers are able to do their jobs in the first place.

If we invest in solid data stewardship, then we will begin to be able to stop the attrition of donors investing in our missions and be able to utilize strategies and tactics that will speak to the experience our donors are looking to have with our nonprofits. So before you click on that next article on why artificial intelligence will remake the world, go back to your database and run a new donor report and check if you have the right phone number for them first.

It will soon be spring here at NTEN HQ, in Portland, OR. The days will lengthen, the campsites will reopen (hurrah!), and the bulbs we planted in previous years will start to peek up out of the ground. The upcoming transformations will be outward signs of a lot of intentional planning on the part of our ecosystems, and a reward for the effort we put in last year.

Gardens, like fundraising, take planning and effort. You can’t expect a bumper harvest of vegetables in the spring if you forgot to plant them in the fall. Here’s how you can keep your fundraising strategy from going to seed.

Sow on time, harvest on time

Every year, we backyard gardeners faithfully open our almanac for advice on what to plant, when and how. We follow the book when it says plant peas in the fall and lettuce in the spring. Likewise, fundraisers should know the seasonality of your organization’s fundraising activities. Membership organizations often have an annual drive, some are linked to anniversaries or news events, and event-driven campaigns have their own peaks and troughs. Write the almanac for your organization, starting with the harvest times and work your way backward to activities that create thriving donor relationships.

Fundraising calendar template: https://www.mobilecause.com/fundraising-calendar-template/#yearend

Note: This doesn’t mean GivingTuesday. It may mean the opposite, in fact. If the tall stalks are stealing your sun and distracting your donors, find another time to make your ask.

Show care, especially when it’s quiet

This far north, gardens don’t do much over the winter. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect them. We spread mulch and eggshells around our plants in the winter, when they’re most vulnerable to cold, disease and pests. Likewise, it’s important to reengage your supporters during the quiet times, send them thank-yous, and make your non-monetary asks. Donors often love to be asked to help year-round, and if you keep the conversation going during the off months, they’ll be more receptive to your in-season ask.

Year-round engagement practices: https://grantspace.org/resources/blog/6-best-practices-for-engaging-your-donors-year-round/

Protect your truffles

Most donors, especially the generous ones, connect with an organization because they believe in its values and its ability to meet its mission. Often, that means that your big donors are also people who hold leverage in other ways, such as being a leader in their community or a well-connected person. That means that sometimes, other parts of your organization might want something from them. But, like truffles, sometimes you should leave them in the ground until they’re ready. Experienced fundraisers will know, sometimes it takes years—even a lifetime—in the case of a big bequest.

Who would want you to risk that relationship? Marketing departments do this all the time: Would you mind if I asked Marcus to reshare this tweet? Can I take Ethan’s photo to show his support for this initiative? Would Sadie be available to talk to the Sentinel about our new campaign? And trust me, as a marketer, you have to tell us, in no uncertain terms: No. Sometimes, this means getting buy-in from the very top of your organization. We marketers might think that whatever we’re working on is paramount but we’re probably not going to argue with the CEO about it.

Be bold

Sometimes, however, fundraisers run the risk of being too precious with our donors. I once worked at an organization that was so timid about asking for money that they suppressed their regular donors for almost their entire summer campaign. They started getting calls from donors who were annoyed that they were running a big campaign and hadn’t asked them for help. It was only then that they changed their strategy and made 40% of their earnings in the last two weeks. Most of them—you guessed it—from regular donors.

A couple of months ago, I fell off my bike onto a row of fava beans, crushing three or four plants and snapping all the struts. After a few minutes of detangling them, I let them be. To my surprise, the next morning there they were, standing at attention once more and straining for the sun. Donors, like plants, are sometimes more robust than we give them credit for. Keep them engaged and push them further with each ask. They might surprise you.

Positive reinforcement for donors: https://www.classy.org/blog/asking-donors-to-give-again-through-positive-reinforcement/

How can your organization find new donors every year? By leveraging the events that you already hold to intentionally expand your community.

1. Host a joint event with another nonprofit

I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t sharing an event with another nonprofit, especially one with a similar mission, make it more difficult for you to find and retain donors?

Not at all! Fundraising isn’t a zero-sum game, and the best indicator of philanthropic giving is… you guessed it, philanthropic giving. Sharing an event with another nonprofit has multiple benefits. You can:

  • Split the cost of the event.
  • Attract a larger crowd than you could on your own.
  • Share a supporter pool.

Events, while being both time- and resource-intensive, are a vital part of any nonprofit’s engagement and fundraising strategies. But if you split the cost and the work of planning and hosting with another nonprofit, you’re doubling your capacity.

For example, think of all the effort it took to pull off your last charity auction. With another nonprofit onboard, you split both the costs of the venue and catering, as well as the task of finding high-level prizes that inspire people to make bigger bids.

Then, when the event is over, you’ll both have collected the contact information of many more new friends than you could have alone. The best part is that you already know that these people are engaged with and supportive of your mission, which is half the battle.

Reach out to other nonprofits in your region with similar or adjacent missions, and see what fun event ideas your teams can brainstorm together.

2. Raise funds peer to peer

Peer-to-peer, or social, fundraising is one of our favorite types of fundraising. It allows your nonprofit to reach a far wider audience than you could on your own through leveraging the power of your supporters’ social networks.

All those shares on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have real-world value for your nonprofit. They increase brand and mission awareness for your nonprofit and expose your fundraiser to people who have a personal incentive to care: your supporters’ friends and family.

If you’ve never hosted a peer-to-peer fundraiser and aren’t sure where to start, check out this ultimate guide from OneCause to get you started.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is great for increasing your ranks of donors because most of the people who donate to the campaign probably don’t know about your nonprofit—they just know that their friends care!

When they fill out the donation page, make sure you make the most of having their contact information by following up with a personalized thank-you letter, more information on the cause, and ways to get involved.

We like to combine peer-to-peer fundraising with fun concluding events like:

  • Dance-a-thons and walk-a-thons
  • 5Ks, 10Ks, or marathons
  • Block parties
  • Silent auction dinners

Then, collect contact information from your event attendees and follow up with them about becoming a donor or a volunteer.

3. Consider awareness-raising events

One of the best things that you can do to attract more donors is to make your nonprofit’s mission and presence in the community more relevant to more people.

For this reason, consider hosting an event outside of your comfort zone to attract people you haven’t interacted with before. Some fun ideas for these types of events could include:

  • A talent show featuring local musicians and comedians.
  • A speed dating night featuring your single donors, some local personalities, and anyone who wants to come to make new friends.
  • A performance like Shakespeare in the Park (consider partnering with a local theater!)

These events provide a two-fold advantage for your nonprofit. First, they increase name awareness in your community. Second, they allow your team the opportunity to mingle with people they don’t know and collect contact information for future cultivation.

Another idea that can both help attract new donors and make the efforts of your current donors go further is to host a volunteer day. Plan a series of tasks that volunteers can do that help your community and your mission, and then promote volunteer grants!

Volunteer grants are when an employer donates money to a nonprofit that one of their employees donates their time to. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of these programs. But promoting them to your volunteers can make their time worth more than it already is.

4. Host a donor thank-you event

A surefire way to increase your donor population is to ask your current donor pool for help.
Next time you host a donor appreciation event, ask your donors and board members to bring friends that they think might be interested in becoming a donor.

This benefits your nonprofit because:

  • The people who are brought to your event already have an emotional connection to your nonprofit, because of their friend.
  • The people who don’t know your organization get to see how well you treat your donors and how gracefully you show your appreciation.
  • Your current donors get to help your nonprofit in a way that doesn’t involve digging deeper into their pockets.

It’s a win-win for everyone, no matter if you host a cocktail party, a picnic in a park, or even a potluck dinner at someone’s house.

5. Conduct prospect research before events

The best way to optimize any event is by conducting prospect research ahead of time. Prospect research is when you access publicly available information about someone to learn more about them and their capacity and willingness to give.

The things you can learn about prospects, or potential donors, include:

  • Wealth markers like real estate or vehicle ownership
  • Philanthropic habits like any previous donations
  • Network associations like employer or alma mater

Knowing these things makes it easier to approach someone at an event. If someone has a history of donating to an environmentally-minded nonprofit, your nonprofit’s Save The Trees drive is probably of great interest to them.

You can also use this research to determine who to add to your invitation lists, to maximize your event’s impact.

The takeaway: Finding new donors may seem intimidating, but it’s not impossible. The donors are out there! You just have to meet them where they are, and encourage them to join your community.

Giving Tuesday is the biggest single giving day of the year. And this year, Facebook is running a match campaign for US-based nonprofit organizations that has the potential to level the playing field for small nonprofits – to the tune of $7 million. Here’s how you can get your slice of that donor match pie.

Register as a nonprofit organization on Facebook

First, you should make sure that you are set up as a nonprofit organization with Facebook. It will take time for Facebook to verify your legitimacy, and they’re likely to get an influx of applications the week before Giving Tuesday, so don’t delay.

For example, here’s the setup page for an organization I work with, the Friends of the Multnomah County Library.

Facebook page setup

Deputize your donors

Facebook’s rules on matching stipulates that there is a maximum of $250,000 per nonprofit and $20,000 per donor. With competition for a share of the $7 million matching pot, you need to get in quick on Giving Tuesday – and that means increasing your number of donors.

A good strategy is to find deputies who are supportive of your cause to create fundraiser buttons. This works a lot like other crowdraising strategies, helping you reach not only your existing donors but their friends and connections.

Help them raise funds on your behalf

Start reaching out to potential deputies early with information on your campaign, how the platform works and what you need from them. Send them stories and impact data that they can reshare with their networks to help them see the importance of donating to your cause. Use your existing donors to seed your list of who to recruit.

Once you have your deputies in place, it is important that you communicate with them how this works and what their expectations are. At minimum, you should send them this article. You also may want to send them some Facebook resources and volunteer instructions that are unique to this task.

Make it a competition

I recently attended a gala for L&LS Man and Woman of the year. It was the final event of several weeks of fundraising initiatives, each participant being a member of a team that was trying to raise more than the others. And every team had a team leader who was in the running for the top prize. The event was not only an awards ceremony but an auction that served as a last-ditch effort for a team to pull ahead. By building this competition, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised in the Portland area alone.

This is a rather grand example, but if you’ve ever been involved in a fundraising penny war, you’ll realize it’s the same basic principle. Even if you can’t afford to do something as big as L&LS, you can learn from them and apply it to this fundraising event. Make your own competition to encourage people to donate that has rules and prizes that speak to what your organization is about. Giving a prize that is relevant to what your organization does will be a more personal touch in reaching your deputies and remind people of why they’re advocates of what you do.

The early bird gets the $7m worm

Not only should you get the jump in getting verified by Facebook, recruiting and training deputies, you should be timely in the donation ask. The hungry, hungry hippos race for those seven million matching dollars begins at 8am ET. That’s 5am on the west coast. So you have to get rolling on this bright and early in the morning. Reach out to donors beforehand to encourage them to make a donation first thing in the morning on Giving Tuesday.

Get started right now to unlock your Giving Tuesday match.

With the light still with us to mid-evening and the pumpkin spice barely dusted, it’s hard to think about the negative wind chill and frantic fundraising that is coming in December. But as one of Big Duck’s resident fundraising mavens, year-end campaign season–often dubbed “a nonprofit’s most financially rewarding time of the year”–is always on my mind. So why do I want it on yours? Well, it’s really never too early to get started, and I want to help make it easy—so let’s focus on the tools you already have: your brand and your donors.

Use your brand strategy to guide your fundraising

If you’ve read Brandraising, or attended one of our sessions at the NTC, you know that the heart of your brand strategy is positioning and personality. Positioning is the big idea that you hope supporters associate with your organization. It’s also what sets you apart. Personality is the set of attributes or feelings you want people to associate with your organization. With your organization’s positioning and personality in hand, you can develop or judge different creative themes for your fundraising campaign.

Farra Trompeter quote: By tailoring your approach to the people who already know you, you celebrate how they have helped you accomplish your victories and invite them to continue partnering with you.Because your year-end fundraising should be an extension of your work year-round, these communications should feel like an extension of your usual communications. Yes, your year-end campaign should be special, and this may be a time of year where you invest more time and money into what you send out. But if your year-end fundraising does not sound, look, and feel like you, your current donors may be confused and less likely to give. Use year-end fundraising to accentuate your incredible work and reinforce what they already know– and love– about you.

As you develop the campaign theme and roadmap to connect all campaign elements, don’t forget to start by breaking down your fundraising goals into SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) objectives. Once you have crafted those objectives (download this handy worksheet), it’s easier to hone in on the strategies and tactics that will achieve them.

Appeal to your core donors – and acknowledge them too

Fundraising campaigns typically focus on renewing or appealing to existing donors, reinstating lapsed donors, and/or acquiring new donors. For year-end fundraising campaigns, we often recommend organizations focus first on renewing past supporters, either recent or lapsed, rather than running a major acquisition campaign to get new supporters. That’s because less than one of out of every three new donors renew their support (based on the latest data from Fundraising Effectiveness Project summarized by Bloomerang)–but when they do, they are 15% more likely to keep on giving–so the value of a donor retained can be far greater than that of one acquired.

By tailoring your approach to year-end fundraising to the people who already know you, you celebrate how they have helped you accomplish your victories and invite them to continue partnering with you into the future.

As we enter the season of giving, be sure to give donors other actions to take beyond giving and remember to say ‘thank you’ to all of your supporters. This can be a great time to make phone calls, send handwritten notes, post a video message or thanks, and let donors know that you love them. Not sure what to say on a thank you call? Try this thank you call guide so that staff, board members, and volunteers go into each call with a game plan.

If you do want to acquire new donors through your year-end appeals, consider running a mini-campaign for #GivingTuesday. While some organizations just send out one email on #GivingTuesday, many nonprofits find success sending out multiple emails before, during, and after that day, as well as posting on social media channels and their website. If you acquire new donors on #GivingTuesday be sure to engage them once they give via a welcome series or a more segmented approach in your follow-up communications.

Still hungry for more tips?

My colleague, Ally Dommu, Big Duck’s director of strategy, shares these five high-value tips that you can put in place now and test before year-end season.

As a former nonprofit CFO, I got the well-deserved reputation for being really grumpy about gala events.

ME: We’re spending more than we’re making on this.

THEM: But it’s really a friend-raiser!

ME: Awesome. By the way, I’m paying you in friends this Friday.

I understand the concept. Fundraising is all about getting people thoroughly familiar with your mission and impact so that when you ask them to give, they say, “yes.”

And for fundraising teams and board members, I understand the appeal of the gala event. Most days we’re selling nothing but warm glow—the feeling donors get when they know they’ve done something to really help. But with a gala we’re selling sponsorships, food, wine, dancing, silent auction items, entertainment, raffle tickets, and maybe (please, no) a puppy. Actual things!

Social vs. monetary transactions

This has come up before: People view social transactions and monetary transactions very differently. For example, how would you respond to these two requests?

  • Will you help me put this couch in my truck?
  • Will you help me put this couch in my truck for $1?

Most people would probably agree to the first request, and decline the second request (or turn down the $1).

Heyman and Ariely showed that people are more likely to expend effort with no reward than with a small monetary reward. But somewhat charmingly, charities get this exactly backwards with their gala events. Here’s an actual example of the benefits in an event sponsorship proposal.

A $10,000 sponsorship gets you:

  • 16 tickets to the event, including cocktails, dinner & wine
  • A celebrity sitting at one of your two tables
  • Exposure to 500+ guests for five hours
  • Full page, 4-color program ad
  • Company name on printed and e-invitation
  • Video and display signage at event
  • Live company mentions during the gala
  • A table in the reception area for your representatives to provide company promotional information
  • Transportation to and from the event for all of your guests
  • Mentions in 50 30-second radio spots on both AM & FM stations

Which of these things would the corporation actually buy if there weren’t a charity attached to them? Probably none.Andrew Schuricht quote

The fair market value for that sponsorship is $11,180. What does this say to the corporate sponsor? “You really don’t want to support our cause, so we’ve put together a package of benefits (that you also don’t want) that are worth more than the value of the sponsorship.”

Fundraising events take what should be a social transaction and convert it into a monetary transaction with a low reward. Which is why everyone (not working at a nonprofit) thinks gala events are horrible.

The economics of gala events

This is usually where nonprofit CFOs start going wrong when trying to kill off fundraising events. They talk about all of the time and effort that staff expend on the event. They talk about the additional expense (even the best run events cost 35% of what they make, and many don’t break even.)

But fundraisers, boards, and Executive Directors don’t care.

“We’re selling actual things! And we’re auctioning a labradoodle!”

So instead, let’s look at it from the corporation’s side.

KEVIN: Wow, nice drive! Right down the middle of the fairway.

STEVE: It’s only the first hole. Hey, by the way, you know I’m on the board of Sunscreen for Whales, right?

KEVIN: [wary] Right…?

STEVE: Our annual gala is coming up next month. Do you guys want to sponsor a table again?

KEVIN: [there’s no way to say no] Sure!

It’s basically a trap. And people who are trapped are probably not in the best frame of mind to appreciate the finer points of your mission and impact. But what about all of those benefits that come along with the sponsorship? Surprise! Nobody cares. It’s the dollar offered to help move a couch into a truck.

Let’s go back to that $10,000 sponsorship with a fair market value of $11,180. Only the charitable component (total amount less FMV) of a gift can be tax deductible, so the tax deduction the corporation gets on that sponsorship is $0.

One potential solution (for corporations)

In a recent sample of event sponsorships¹, the tax-deductible portion ranged from 0% to 75%. That means that on a $10,000 table sponsorship, the corporation could deduct $7,500 at best. Assuming an average effective tax rate of 19.8%, that’s a maximum tax savings of $1,485 (and a minimum of zero).

An outright gift of the same $10,000 to an organization is 100% deductible, and saves the corporation $1,980 in taxes. Nearly every nonprofit would actually prefer the $10k gift over the sponsorship anyway, so we won’t be hurting Steve’s feelings or making the remaining 17 holes of golf awkward. There’s a nifty calculator just for this!

One potential solution (for nonprofits)

I readily admit that this is going to be a hard sell. Taking away the “actual things” crutch will make people unsteady. But corporate sponsors just don’t want to hurt your feelings. They hate gala events, but would never say that because it makes them sound uncharitable, which they’re not.

Some Susan G. Komen chapters advertise Sleep In for the Cure, but I’m pretty sure they still send you a race bib and a t-shirt. The Neighborhood House Association did an all-online gala back in 2008, but they still had sponsorship packages. Maybe it’s possible to take it even a step further.

Introducing the Not-A-Gala! For each $150 ticket, we will give you permission for a night on the town–for charity! Eat wherever you want, take in any entertainment that you like, and invite guests that you’ll enjoy being around. All for charity. And it’s 100% tax-deductible!

Okay, that idea probably needs work.² But I’m sure there’s a good replacement for the horrible old gala out there somewhere.

¹ A wholly unscientific sample, by the way, because it was done by me.
² But I’m copyrighting it just in case…

A version of this article first appeared on Nonprofit Remix and is reprinted here with permission.

Online fundraising holds unlimited potential for nonprofits. Armed with a strategic email campaign or timely social media appeal, you can raise thousands—or even millions— online in a matter of days. As online giving grows by millions of dollars every year, access to online fundraising is crucial for nonprofits.

There are so many tools and strategies out there to help nonprofits, but most come with a hefty price tag. According to NTEN, the average nonprofit spends almost $100,000 on technology per year. Seems high, right? But after you take a look at the costs that go into online fundraising, which is just one slice of the pie, you’ll start to see how things add up.

Here’s a breakdown of the costs nonprofits should be aware of when fundraising online, plus important considerations and strategies you should keep in mind to save critical funds in the process.

Platform fees and contractsFundraising costs quote: One of the sneakiest hidden costs of online fundraising is time spent by your staff figuring out how to use the technology.

Getting started raising money online requires online fundraising technology—or a fundraising platform. However, these platforms can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, usually in the form of annual or monthly fees, sometimes both. The most popular platforms cost as much a $400 per month and some will take an additional 3% to 8% per donation in fees. Many platforms also require you to sign lengthy contracts, locking you in for a year or more.

Implementation costs

Nonprofits usually need additional help setting up online fundraising—it’s rarely as easy as “sign up & start fundraising.” From initial setup to ongoing issues, hidden costs add up quickly.

When nonprofit customers run out of the allotted support time included in many platform packages, they’re charged at an unpublicized per-hour rate. Additionally, adding features and integrations costs extra so it’s important for nonprofits to anticipate any future needs when evaluating the cost of a platform.

People hours

Along with implementation costs, one of the sneakiest hidden costs of online fundraising is time spent by your staff trying to figure out how to use the technology. Whether you’re working on integrating systems that don’t speak to each other, trying to figure out an archaic platform, or managing manual processes, these activities can be a time suck and cost burden on you and your staff.

Limited feature offerings

There are a few bare-bones options nonprofits can use to save, but those come with indirect costs too. For example, a platform that offers limited features may save money on the front end but will result in money lost due to untapped opportunity. It’s important to fundraise online with a variety of different strategies like customizable campaign pages and peer-to-peer functionality to maximize your efforts.

From a quality perspective, unbranded, or clunky donation pages don’t appeal to donors the same way customized pages do. Plus, a barebones platform may be limited in providing access to donor data and transferring funds to your account. Quality and functionality matter.

How nonprofits can save

So, how can nonprofits that are spending tens of thousands of dollars per year on technology cut costs?

Look for high-quality, cost-effective alternatives

Nonprofits that are sick of paying too much for online fundraising should look for a cost-effective or free alternative that won’t jeopardize the quality of their appeal. For example, some platforms charge little to no fees per donation, and no setup fees or monthly fees either. If you go with a platform that charges fees only per donation, make sure it gives donors the option to cover those fees.

Keep your options open

Organizations should avoid signing exclusive multi-year contracts that bar them from using another company’s platform. You should be able to take advantage of new tech offerings that could even be free and help you reach your fundraising goals.

Focus on easy-to-use tech

Nonprofit staff are busy tackling the world’s most pressing issues and are already overworked. It’s crucial to go with a platform that’s user-friendly and doesn’t require a computer science degree to operate.

Ask your peers

Online reviews are full of insights on the different platforms out there. Look to blogs, message boards and social media groups (e.g., Facebook groups like Nonprofit Happy Hour and The Thriving Nonprofit with Joan Garry) focused on helping nonprofits understand all their options, ask specific questions, and get a breakdown of the real costs that are often hidden.

Whatever your level of online fundraising prowess, it’s crucial to take a step back, audit your current fundraising costs, and assess where you can save. Keep your eyes peeled for new technology that will help you maximize your online fundraising potential, and keep up the good work.

Auctions can excite donors and raise funds fast, and that makes them an ideal way to engage your base of support while hitting your fundraising goals.

Experienced fundraisers know that collecting key fundraising metrics is a valuable part of any fundraising event. When collected during a fundraising auction, this data can help guide your organization’s future events and greatly refine your understanding of your donor base.

With smart planning and some adaptive digital tools, you can host an online or live charity auction for any level of donor. Thoughtfully planning your auction and considering your exact goals well ahead of time will ensure a successful event that boosts engagement and raises funds.

1. Use targeting in your auction strategy

Segmenting your donor base is never a bad idea. In fact, it’s the first step in targeting your auction strategy.

Depending on the kind of auction you want to host and the level of donor you’d like to engage, you need to consider your organization’s options and tools for organizing and directing the event. For instance:

  • Major donors are more likely to enjoy live auction events. Simplify the entire experience by providing digital tools for mobile bidding.
  • Mid-level donors and members will enjoy live and digital fundraising auction events that foster a sense of community and have lower stakes.
  • Your entire donor base will enjoy online charity auction events, with extended timeframes and a reduced sense of competition.

It’s always important to speak your donors’ language, which includes understanding and anticipating their expectations of any given fundraising event.

The takeaway: Digital auction and bidding tools help you target your charity auction to specific segments of your donor base, increasing engagement and ensuring a successful auction.

2. Tailor your catalog to specific donor levels

Once you’ve thoughtfully adjusted your event strategy and digital toolkit, it’s important that you do the same with your catalog of auction items. Consider these questions:

  • Who are your intended donors for this auction? Just one segment or everyone?
  • Will this charity auction event be live or hosted online?
  • What initially drew your supporters to your organization?
  • What are the goals of your campaign and of this specific event?

Consciously tailoring your catalog to your specific campaign and intended donors ensures your event will be relevant to the interests of those you want to engage. For instance, a high-profile auction might offer items in a higher price range since attendees will be more excited for some friendly competition.

In contrast, auction items for a local school fundraiser need to be suited to a wide range of donor levels. Including some raffle items and events within a more traditional auction would be a great strategy to address this need, and this is why it’s important to invest in versatile school auction software or other tools that can adapt to your needs.

For online auctions, offering items with starting bids higher than your average online donation is the quickest way to lose your donors’ interest.

The takeaway: Offer items that your intended donors will want and can also easily afford. Otherwise, you could alienate your broader donor base or waste your major donors’ interest.

3. Use integrated event software to plan your auction

Using a comprehensive event planning software can make the entire planning process considerably more efficient, saving you time and resources.

For a charity auction of any size, live or online, it’s important that you be able to compile and access information quickly. Keep the entire event running smoothly with functions like:

  • Event website hosting, registration tools, and check-in functions
  • Automated invitation emails and mailing lists
  • Ability to store and process payment and shipping information
  • Online and mobile bidding support

Not only will a strong event management software solution prevent any logistical hiccups in your auction, it’ll also provide you with important analytic reporting that will be invaluable to your future campaigns.

The takeaway: Find event management software that will support online and mobile auctions as well as integrate and process all your data.

4. Consider the broader context of your fundraising campaign

Is your charity auction a standalone fundraising event, or is it part of a broader fundraising campaign?

A larger standalone charity auction is a major fundraising event in and of itself and should be marketed as such. Online auctions and mobile bidding, while also unique events, are a perfect element to configure into your broader social fundraising campaigns.

Think of your different fundraising strategies and the ways that online auction events might be integrated into them:

  • Augment your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Peer-to-peer fundraising pages can provide donors with information on your online auction.
  • Offer special promotions from your sponsors. If your organization is supported by local businesses, offer special discounts or service packages in a special online auction.
  • Use online auctions to promote other fundraising events. For instance, if you’ll be hosting a charity golf tournament, let participants bid on mulligans!
  • Online and mobile bidding tools have made it cheaper and easier to incorporate auction elements into other fundraising strategies, which will boost your overall campaign strategies.

The takeaway: If your overarching campaign involves other digital outlets or fundraising events, brainstorm some ways that an online auction could contribute to overall donor engagement.

5. Promote your auction through targeted outlets

Marketing is an essential part of any successful fundraising event, and it’s crucial to spread the word through channels relevant to your supporters.

Here are some targeted methods that you might use to promote your auction event:

  • A social media campaign to spread awareness among all your followers
  • An email campaign to more specific segments of donors
  • Special promotions or printed material at your other fundraising events
  • A direct mail campaign to all your members

A social media blast would be perfect for a broad online auction event, while targeted email, direct mail, or phone calls might work best for a live charity auction for your more major donors.

Additionally, create a dedicated microsite for your live or online auction events through your event management software or online auction platform. This is the best place to direct supporters for more information and to tease some special items from the auction catalog.

The takeaway: Depending on the type of donors that you’re hoping to engage with your auction event, you should specifically target your marketing strategies to best catch their attention.

As with any fundraising event, it’s important to put as much planning and forethought into your charity auctions and online auction events as possible. This ensures that both your donors and your organization will get something of value from the event.

By targeting and tailoring every aspect of your event to maximize its relevance and appeal to your supporters, you’ll be sure to host a successful auction and reach your fundraising goals.

Spring has sprung, and we all know what that means—time to start thinking about your GivingTuesday strategy!

If only it were this easy…

Yes, it’s not until November, but if you want your nonprofit’s worthy cause to stand out from the crowd and inspire your supporters, now is the time to start your plans.

Coming up on May 23, Digital Storytelling in Fundraising will help you create compelling narratives to share with your supporters, so that they feel more connected to your work and your mission.

Once you’ve got those creative juices flowing, make sure your plan is powered by data: define the metrics you need to engage donors and increase income with our Data-Driven Fundraising course.

There are many pieces to the fundraising puzzle, and our online courses can help you see the big picture and all the little details. By the time GivingTuesday rolls around this year, you’ll be calm, cool, and collected in the midst of the storm, watching all your hard work and preparation pay off.

There are trees, and there is forest. There are anecdotes, and there is data. There are the pinprick pixels of our individual experiences, and there is the vast picture they paint together of the world we share.

The M+R Benchmarks Study is our annual attempt to bridge that divide. This year, we have collected an extensive array of data points from 154 nonprofit participants. Each of them marks a single digital interaction with a supporter: an email opened, a donation made, a petition signed, a website visited, an ad clicked, a Facebook post liked, or tweet retweeted. All told, these add up to 4,699,299,330 email messages, 527,754,635 web visits, and 11,958,385 donations.

NTEN is proud to partner with M+R once again for the latest Benchmarks report. Explore or download it here.