As a nonprofit professional, you’ve likely seen and heard your fair share of nonprofit gossip and fundraising myths. It can be difficult to tell myth from reality, especially when so many nonprofit best practices are just bad pieces of advice that get spun into the truth.
But have no fear! We’re about to shatter some of those pesky myths once and for all.
Below is what we’ll be covering in this article. Click one of the myths to jump to that page, or click here to view all nine on one page. Now let's bust some myths!
- Small Nonprofits Don’t Need a Major Gifts Strategy
- Advocates and Donors Are Two Groups That Don’t Overlap
- You Need an Outside Consultant for Your Capital Campaign
- There’s No Science to Storytelling
- Nonprofits Don’t Need to Worry About Customer Service
- Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Is Only for 5Ks and Fun-Runs
- Direct Mail Is Dead
- You Can Get By Without Donor Feedback
- You Should Focus on Quantity Over Quality
Fundraising Myth No. 1: Small Nonprofits Don’t Need a Major Gifts Strategy
It’s a common misconception that small or new nonprofits can’t go after major gifts. But this myth is easily busted if we just rethink what “major gift” means.
Sure, for a large organization a major gift might be a six-figure number. But for a small, up-and-coming nonprofit, a major gift could be drastically different. And that’s OK!
Because small organizations often don’t have the capacity to go after those six-digit donations, they tend to think that any kind of major gift is out of their reach. But if your small nonprofit wants to break into the major gift fundraising game, you’ll just need to establish what a major gift is for your organization.
Look at your past donations and highlight the largest contributions.
Then, follow these steps to determine what your major gift goals should be:
- Identify the five to 10 supporters who have given the largest donations.
- Take a look at the range of those contributions and eliminate any outliers that deviate from the norm.
- With the remaining donation amounts, estimate a number that is a suitable middle ground (i.e., if your range is $5,000 to $10,000, you could reasonably choose $7,500 as your estimate).
- Keep that number as your target and adjust it as your nonprofit grows.
Don’t assume that your small nonprofit can’t obtain major gifts! You just have to rethink your strategy.
The Truth: Nonprofits of any size can go after major gifts. But each organization, big or small, must first establish what a major gift is for them.
Fundraising Myth No. 2: Advocates and Donors Are Two Groups That Don’t Overlap
Some people will divide advocates and donors into two separate groups that rarely overlap.
And while it is true that some of your donors will never sign a petition and some of your advocates will only ever donate their time, the two groups are not always mutually exclusive!
The idea that the two demographics don’t overlap simplifies the rich complexity of the supporter/nonprofit relationship.
Let me explain.
Each supporter—whether it’s a donor, volunteer or advocate—has a unique connection to your organization. To assume that a donor wouldn’t want to help your nonprofit on a volunteer day or that an advocate wouldn’t want to donate to your cause is only limiting your nonprofit’s vision.
You likely already know that the lifetime value of a volunteer or advocate is incredible (especially with the right engagement!), but that value increases the minute a volunteer makes a donation to your organization!
Similarly, when donors give their time to your nonprofit, they get to see the immediate effects of their efforts.
The Truth: Your biggest advocates can become donors, and your donors can become your most loyal advocates. Don’t think of the two as separate groups!
Bonus tip: Check out this article for ideas for turning advocates into donors and vice versa!
Fundraising Myth No. 3: You Need an Outside Consultant for Your Capital Campaign
If you know anything about capital campaigns, you know that they are substantial fundraising undertakings. They require enormous amounts of planning and often take years to complete.
Many nonprofits feel ill-equipped to go through all of the necessary steps that ensure capital campaign success, so they hire outside consultants to conduct the feasibility study and quiet phase of the campaign.
If you want to save money and get to know your donors a bit better, skip out on the outside consultant and use your own resources for your feasibility study and quiet phase!
Naturally, this route will take more planning than simply following the lead of a consultant, but the end result will be worth it.
- Save money: Some feasibility studies can cost as much as $100,000.
- Have more control: Since you’re asking the questions and directing the meetings, you don’t have to worry about miscommunications as much.
- Connect with your donors: By sidestepping an outside consultant, you get to communicate with your donors and supporters directly.
With the right preparation and forethought, your organization can focus your capital campaign efforts on raising money instead of spending it!
The Truth: Your nonprofit can conduct your own feasibility study and quiet phase. In fact, there are multiple benefits to doing so!
Fundraising Myth No. 4: There’s No Science to Storytelling
Many nonprofits overlook storytelling because they aren’t sure how to use it. What story should we tell? How long should it be? Should it be told from the organization’s point of view or the perspective of someone we’ve helped? Should the story be featured in an email? A letter? On social media?
These are just a few of the questions that nonprofit professionals often ask when it comes to storytelling. Sometimes it feels like there's just an unknown art to storytelling as opposed to a science.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Nonprofit storytelling as a science has received quite a lot of attention lately, with organizations developing formulas that work best for them (even political campaigns are getting in on great storytelling).
It’s important to note that there isn’t a single tactic that’s going to work for every nonprofit.
Each organization has its own story to tell, and the way in which it tells that story is ultimately up to that organization. But, there are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Start with a character or someone who has been helped by your organization.
- Give the audience details and flesh out the character.
- Outline the character’s goals and introduce a conflict that obstructs those goals.
- Demonstrate how the character overcame adversity (with some help from your nonprofit).
- Let donors know how they can help this character’s story continue.
Following this outline and tweaking it where you can will lead to successful storytelling, making it much easier to ask for donations from your donors.
The Truth: Nonprofit storytelling has key components that every organization can use for effective communication and fundraising.
Fundraising Myth No. 5: Nonprofits Don’t Need to Worry About Customer Service
Customer service has become synonymous with good business practice. And just because your nonprofit isn’t in it for the money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise impeccable customer service.
As F. Duke Haddad wrote on this site, “Individuals must feel valued and appreciated.”
It doesn’t matter if the individual is someone your nonprofit has helped, a brand new donor or a loyal volunteer: Good customer service can make a difference.
- It can result in more people rallying around your cause.
- It can help bring in more donations.
- It can help your nonprofit create more effective change.
Just because your organization isn’t profit-seeking doesn’t mean that you can abandon good customer service.
The Truth: Take a cue from the business world. Start offering your donors, volunteers, and the people and communities you assist excellent customer service. Your organization won’t thrive without it!
Fundraising Myth No. 6: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Is Only for 5Ks and Fun Runs
When people say “peer-to-peer fundraising” or “crowdfunding,” they’re usually thinking of an online fundraiser tied to a marathon, 5K, fun run or other event. And while it’s true that most crowdfunding campaigns are connected to these types of larger events, they don’t always have to be.
In fact, peer-to-peer fundraisers can be used any time of year for any cause. Because of their popularity, they’re an easy fundraising method for any organization. According to Salsa Labs, 18 percent of all digital donations now come from peer-to-peer fundraisers.
The great thing about peer-to-peer fundraising is that it puts your donors in the driver’s seat. They are the ones reaching out to their friends and family members. They are the ones who are supporting your cause. They are the ones helping your nonprofit recruit new supporters.
It’s a great way to show your donors the ins and outs of fundraising. Don’t wait for your big annual marathon or fundraising event to make the most of crowdfunding.
The Truth: Peer-to-peer fundraising can be used by any organization during any time of the year. It doesn’t have to be reserved for marathons or fundraising walks. Use it as a supplementary fundraising tactic and put your donors in the driver’s seat.
Fundraising Myth No. 7: Direct Mail Is Dead
Let’s face it: We’re in a teched-out world. Everywhere you look, someone is peering into some kind of screen, whether it’s a tablet, smartphone, desktop, laptop or watch.
It would appear, then, that traditional fundraising methods (like letters and direct mail) are dead in the water.
Yes, email is a faster way to get in touch with donors, and social media allows you to instantly connect with supporters through images, text and videos. But there’s something about direct mail that still appeals to donors.
Perhaps it’s the tangible aspect of a letter. It might be the personal touch of a thank-you card. Maybe it’s the fact that donors can hang direct mail on their fridges. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that direct mail isn’t going away yet.
The Truth: Traditional fundraising methods like direct mail are still alive and well. Just make sure your supporters will respond to these methods before you stamp hundreds of envelopes!
Fundraising Myth No. 8: You Can Get By Without Donor Feedback
Here’s the thing: Your donors are the ones that keep your organization going. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to fulfill your mission or complete the projects you begin.
Therefore, it’s enormously important that you listen to your donors when they speak to you. If a donor says she prefers direct mail, start sending more letters and fewer emails. If a volunteer wants to start acting in a more visible role, talk with him about ways to accomplish that. If a major-gift prospect has some ideas about how you should approach other high-quality donors, pay attention.
If you expect to retain donors, you have to listen to what they have to say.
Additionally, you can regularly ask donors for their feedback by:
- Sending out surveys via email.
- Talking to them directly during in-person meetings and at events.
- Conducting an informal poll with social media.
The Truth: No nonprofit is an island. Keep your supporters’ feedback in mind whenever they speak up.
Fundraising Myth No. 9: You Should Focus on Quantity Over Quality
With a hyper-teched society comes the push towards automated everything. Even nonprofits can’t escape the appeal of mass marketing and communications to donors.
Everything is so much easier now!
Unfortunately, the focus has shifted, and nonprofits now find themselves in a conundrum. They need to reach more donors, but they also need to personalize their communications.
What's the solution?
Increase your focus on quality, not quantity.
Yes, you still need to reach a large donor base, but think about how much better your donors’ experiences would be if you took just one extra step toward personalizing your communications.
This might mean:
- Including donors’ preferred names in email greetings instead of “Dear Donor.”
- Signing a letter.
- Handwriting a thank-you card.
- Calling a donor (but not to ask for a donation!).
- Highlighting a stand-out supporter on social media.
Working toward a more personal communication strategy can not only give your supporters a more meaningful connection to your organization, but it can also give your fundraising efforts a boost. People give to organizations they feel connected to.
The Truth: Quality communications will always win over numbers-driven outreach strategies.
Hopefully we’ve shattered some of the most popular fundraising myths out there. Now it's your turn. Have you run across any nonprofit gossip that simply wasn’t true? Let us know in the comments!