When mapping out your fundraising plan, think about your fundraising strengths.
Are you strong in event planning, laying out all the little details?
Great at asking for in kind gifts?
Masterful at telling stories that bring people to happy tears?
Is social media where you connect with people? Or do you excel in face-to-face meetings?
Can you speak in front of groups? Or are you better at making connections one-on-one?
If you play to your strengths when raising money for your organization, you’ll have a better chance of success.
In fact, the work will be easier, and you may find yourself having fun.
So why don’t all nonprofit founders play to their fundraising strengths?
Because we tend to look at what other organizations do to raise money and try to capture their magic.
That’s not the best way to do it.
By working with your own personal fundraising strengths, you’ll make your own magic for your nonprofit.
In addition to your strengths, you need to consider the strengths of everyone on your fundraising team. What does everyone bring to the table? Board members, volunteers, and staff members will have more success if they are working in their individual areas of strength instead of just trying to get a job done because someone needs to do it.
On top of all that, what are your organization’s fundraising strengths?
Every organization has something going for it:
- Maybe your mission is irresistible,
- Your cause is constantly in the news,
- You have several Board members with strong connections to bring in grant funding,
- You have a large social media following,
- You have a beautiful bus with your organization’s name plastered on both sides,
- Or something else that is an asset you can use to raise funds.
We all have something. It’s time to look around and see what organizational assets you can leverage to bring in money.
By focusing on your personal fundraising strengths, your team’s strengths, and your organization’s assets, you can choose fundraising strategies that WILL WORK.
They might be different from the strategies that work for organizations you admire, but they will be right for you because they play to your fundraising strengths, making the work easier and more fun.
Assess Your Own Fundraising Strengths
First you have to determine your personal fundraising strengths and have the courage to own them.
This can be hard for some people. Many of us have been conditioned to be humble and to focus on areas where we need improvement.
So, be honest. What are you really good at? What do people compliment you on? What comes naturally to you?
Now, write them down.
Write down everything you can think of that is useful in bringing in money to your nonprofit. But don’t write down things you wish you were good at or things you plan to get good at with training. Stick with things you are good at right now.
Your list shouldn’t be long. There are only so many hours in a day, and no one is good at everything. Most people have four to six key strengths that are applicable to nonprofit fundraising.
Feeling stuck? Let me walk you through an exercise that will help.
Now, look at the things that are “above the line” for you. Write down what you’re good at in declarative sentences like this:
- I am a wonderful event planner!
- I’m really good at organizing things.
- I make people feel at ease.
Keep this list handy and read it out loud to yourself every day until you really feel this in your bones. Then you’ll truly own your strengths.
Assess Your Team’s Fundraising Strengths
Next, have everyone on your fundraising team go through the unique brilliance exercise and write down their strengths, too. Have the team share with each other what’s both above the line and below the line for them.
You’ll find out what people are good at and that will make it easier to ask them to do things that are in their wheelhouse.
You’ll also find out what people are NOT good at and you’ll know what not to ask of them. For instance, if someone has “talking on the phone” in a category below the line, you definitely don’t want to ask them to call monthly donors to thank them. That would be a disaster!
And this exercise will help you uncover that.
Once you know the results from this exercise, you can better match people to tasks that need to be done, resulting in more work getting done and a happier team.
Uncover Your Organization’s Fundraising Assets
Think of your organization’s fundraising assets as things that help your organization stand out from the pack.
We hate to think about being in competition with other worthy organizations that do important work. But, when seeking funds, your organization needs to stand out.
Here are some organizational assets your nonprofit might have:
A compelling mission. Some causes are easier for people to connect with than others. Programs that involve children resonate widely. Think about organizations that take children with cancer and their families on wonderful vacations. Who can say no to that?
Animal rescues have missions that are assets. The Betty Whites in your community will love what you do because they love the animals you rescue.
Other missions are more challenging. Maybe they take time to explain or address sensitive issues or involve people who have made bad choices. I have friends who work for organizations working to end sex trafficking. It’s so important and also complex. There are many organizations trying to make a difference in this area, yet it is an aspect of society people don’t know a lot about and often don’t feel comfortable talking about.
I got on a mailing list for an organization that advocates for men who are survivors of sexual abuse. I empathize with this organization and occasionally donate to them. I know how challenging it is to build support for a mission that doesn’t involve children, animals, or people we are used to seeing in vulnerable situations.
Think about your mission and how people respond when you tell people what you do. If people immediately light up, your mission is an asset.
Large base of support: If you already have a large donor or volunteer base, you have a lot to work with as you seek to raise funds and reach further into the community. You’ve got lots of people who might raise their hand to volunteer or invite you to speak to a club they belong to. You’ll see some people naturally become Ambassadors for your nonprofit, talking up your mission in the community. These are all things that will help you raise awareness and funds for your mission.
Name recognition: If you work for the YWCA, Habitat for Humanity, or a local organization with deep roots in the community, your organization’s name recognition is probably an asset. In most cases, an established name will make it easier to ask for and receive money because people will at least have heard of you, which can equal legitimacy in their mind.
Staff and Board members with name recognition, networks, and reputations as leaders are also valuable assets. How long have you worked in the field and how well are you known? How about your Board members? Is anyone a household name in your community?
An environmental organization I know hired a former lieutenant governor as Executive Director. Many in the nonprofit world frowned on this move and his lack of nonprofit experience, but he was a tremendous asset in terms of name recognition and networks.
This is why many nonprofits often seek Board members who are CEOs of large companies, partners in law firms, and other high-profile executives.
Organic media attention: When your focus area is often in the news, your organization will reap the benefits of media coverage without having to work too hard for it.
For example, if your community has a refugee resettlement program, you will read a lot of positive coverage about the organizations that help Afghan families start new lives whenever Afghan immigration is in the news.
If you work in the trenches of an ongoing, systemic issue like food insecurity, you can leverage your organization’s reputation and expertise during certain times of year like the first cold snap or when a report about job losses or economic trouble hits the news.
When I worked at the food bank, we were often called on for a local perspective any time food insecurity was in the national news. We worked hard to build relationships with the local news media and the result was a lot of local news coverage.
Facilities that make good tours. Having a property people can tour is a major asset that makes your work more tangible. Think schools, animal shelters, transitional housing, and food pantries. If you can show the donor your work in action, you have a great chance of educating people, raising awareness, and getting more donations.
There is a wonderful school in the Atlanta area for children and young adults with disabilities. Their development director knows this is their ace in the hole. If he can get a prospective donor to come for a tour, that person will be moved to give. Every time.
Many organizations can’t take a prospective volunteer on a tour. Maybe the work happens in another country or there are too many privacy issues that might arise from a tour. Or maybe the nonprofit’s work all happens remotely and there isn’t even an office. In that case, maybe the tour could be virtual or simply be a meeting.
One of our clients serves single Moms who are trying to climb out of poverty and create a better life. They don’t have a facility where they can show the work happening. So they hold a regular lunch called “A Day in the Life” where they gather a small group of people in a local church and they show a video that describes a typical day for one of their clients. Attendees are dumbfounded at what they learn and by the end of the lunch, they are ready to give, on the spot. It’s not a tour per se, but it works beautifully.
A truck or van with your organization’s name on it. This is another under-appreciated asset. A smiling volunteer or staff person driving your branded vehicle all over town is a significant asset.
This type of advertising is called Out Of Home, or OOH, and includes billboards. But a billboard doesn’t move around! A vehicle with your branding can expose your brand to an even greater swath of people.
This makes food banks, mobile dental clinics, thrift stores, and similar organizations well-positioned to leverage their name recognition.
Website that gets a lot of traffic. Some nonprofits have invested in their website and build up significant traffic through Search Engine Optimization (SEO), well-read blogs, and quality content people want to the extent that they get hundreds or thousands of visitors each month. That is an asset just waiting to be leveraged!
Organizations that advocate for people with a specific medical condition are often fantastic at this. For example, an organization that supports people with Phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic metabolic disorder, can build site traffic by offering high-value content to people with PKU or with a loved one with PKU.
If you differentiate your content and offer what people are looking for, and optimize your content so people can find your website … you will build an audience. A robust blog is also a great strategy for building content, as is video content.
Opportunity for earned income, such as a thrift store or gift shop. If you have a store where you already have traffic, that’s an organizational asset. When someone buys something from your organization, do you give them the opportunity to donate or at lest get on your mailing list to learn more about how they can get involved? If not, you may be missing out on lots of wonderful new supporters!
A celebrity supporter. If you have a supporter with a public profile, it’s an asset worth trying to leverage. Celebrities benefit from associating themselves with a worthy cause, especially when their support is sincere and from the heart.
A celebrity supporter does not have to be Taylor Swift or Harry Styles. You can seek support from a local celebrity, like the coach for the local university’s sports team, a local minor league athlete or a band that is popular in your town. Start by just asking them to invite their Instagram followers to donate to a crowdfunding campaign.
A well-known person, such as a former elected official or a retired CEO, can also be an asset. And don’t overlook influencers on Instagram. Do you have any followers who have a huge following? If so, that person is an asset.
Identifying your organization’s assets is fun, but you need to think outside the box. You may be completely overlooking something really valuable that’s right under your nose.
I once met with a nonprofit leader who felt stuck. She had a list of people who had attended a fundraiser three years earlier, and I told her that was a great place to start.
But, then, she mentioned that a case her legal organization worked on was featured on a podcast. And through the podcast, she got a list of 8,000 people who wanted to receive updates on the case via email!
She had not one but two fantastic assets to work with! She wasn’t stuck at all! Within two years, the organization was thriving.
Another client had an email list of over 10,000 who were receiving a program-related newsletter. I asked if she had ever asked those people for money and she said “What?” We put together a quick appeal and within a couple of weeks, she raised $10,000 just by giving those folks another way to support the nonprofit’s good work.
Personal Strengths + Organizational Assets = Basis for a Fundraising Plan
Okay, now that you’re clear on your personal fundraising strengths, your team’s fundraising strengths, and your organization’s fundraising assets, you can figure out how to use these or combine them to choose strategies for your fundraising plan.
You’ll be working in areas that feel comfortable and that you are good at, which will move you quickly toward your goal.
For example, if you’re strong in writing, focus on:
- Donor-focused email marketing
If you are more social, focus on:
- House gatherings and other events
- Update and thank-you phone calls
- One-on-one asks
This doesn’t mean you exclude the things you are not good at. You should always be stretching into uncomfortable areas as part of your growth as a nonprofit leader.
But some things you just can’t get better at no matter how hard you try. It might make more sense to hire someone to do the things you aren’t that good at, especially if you can easily hire someone who is great in that area.
For instance, many nonprofit founders would benefit greatly from hiring a bookkeeper, instead of trying to save a few bucks by managing Quickbooks themselves. The time and energy that would free up would allow that founder to work on spreading the word and raising money, which is a much better use of time for them, and would help grow the nonprofit faster.
You can hire someone to do anything you’re not good at, don’t want to do, or don’t have time for, from writing your website content to handling your media relations. If you’re not ready to hire, enlist Board members to help with fundraising, get an intern to do grant research, or form a committee to plan and execute your signature event.
You don’t have to do it all, and you can’t do it all!
Work in your areas of strength and leverage your organization’s strengths. This is how you make fundraising easier.
The Bottom Line
Taking the time to list your fundraising strengths is a powerful exercise. Working with your team to encourage them to write down their strengths is another important step toward easier fundraising.
And then evaluating your organization’s assets will truly light the path forward.
You will understand what you should be doing, which strategies you should pursue, and ways to raise money that make sense for you and your organization right now.
This is the juncture where fundraising gets easier and feels more natural. It can even be fun!
Wouldn’t that be great? For money to flow into your organization and for you to be able to focus on running programs and changing lives?
That’s what focusing on your fundraising strengths can do for you!
Want more help choosing fundraising strategies that are right for you? Join me January 27th for Fundraising Blueprint. I’ll walk you through a step-by-step process, plus you’ll go home with my color-coded, detailed annual fundraising plan template AND a sample plan! Sign up at www.GetFullyFunded.com/Blueprint