3 Big Opportunities That Allow Small Nonprofits to Stand Out
If your nonprofit raises $50,000, $500,000 or $5 million, you are not alone. The reality is that the vast majority of the 1.8 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. are never going to even be a blip on the list of largest nonprofits.
There’s no reason for shame. Assuming you are working for an ethical organization that keeps its overhead at a reasonable level and that you are carrying out a worthwhile mission, you matter. Imagine all that would not be getting done if organizations that aren’t the largest charities shut their doors tomorrow. The results would, in many cases, be calamitous.
But being smaller is no excuse for not making a heroic effort; your mission deserves smart fundraising. And smart fundraising means taking advantage of these big opportunities.
1. Figure Out Your Uniqueness
One of the takeaways from Giving USA’s annual report this year is that older donors build relationships; younger donors are drawn to a cause. Depending on where you are located, you may be one of many addressing a specific need. What separates you from all the rest? When you know what that is — and you never miss an opportunity to proclaim it — you can help your organization to be viewed as one of the best, not just one of the rest.
Your uniqueness will drive some people away. But if you pretend to be something to get that first donation, you either have to keep up the pretense or risk having a lot of one-time donors. Your goal should be loyal donors who stick with you, so give them the understanding that can build that dedication. When donors understand what makes you different, they can hear your message above all the other noise in the marketplace.
2. Plan Ahead for Year-End Fundraising
Year-end is one of those inevitable things in life — and it’s easy to anticipate. Every year, without fail, the year ends on Dec. 31. Here are a few more things we know: Nearly a third of annual giving occurs in December and 12% of all giving is done Dec. 29 to 31. So, what you do to encourage year-end giving is more than important. In fact, it’s vital.
At the same time, a lot of forces are conspiring against you for year-end fundraising, so a wise fundraiser never relies on one fundraising tool. In addition to nurturing major donors, have a plan for lower-end donors. Everyone is using e-appeals (you should be, too), so there is a lot of competition, but a well-thought-out strategy makes it more likely that you will snag the attention of a would-be donor.
Because I have seen the impact, I still recommend a year-end mailing (mailed in mid-November to give a donor time to respond), supported by an e-appeal schedule that promotes the offer in the mailing, invites a Giving Tuesday gift and ends the year with short, to-the-point “give now before the year ends” e-appeals.
Why the hurry? Last year was a disaster for nonprofits who waited too late to mail. Mailers were backed up and the post office announced a delivery slowdown. This year, some critical pieces of the process are already lagging or in short supply. There are fewer printers and supplies, especially ones able to manage a small, 2,500- 5,000-piece mailing. Start now rather than risk a year-end mailing that arrives in-home on Jan. 3.
3. Do the Unexpected
Some of the nice touches that nonprofits used to do have gone the way of the rotary-dial phone. Shock your doors by sending them a timely receipt that genuinely shows your appreciation; mail or email a short, personal note; call them and report back on the project they supported; or some combination of these. Donors have become used to neglect, so is it any surprise their loyalty to an organization is nonexistent? Treat them like a friend and not just a funder and you will stand out in a crowded field because you are constantly saying to them, “You matter.”
These are such old-fashioned ideas! I know it and I don’t apologize because I see them working over and over when smaller nonprofits apply them. Don’t worry about not being the biggest; instead, focus on being the best in the eyes of your donor. That’s when you will stand out and become a donor’s first choice, not just a choice in a crowded field.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.