While private donations can have a significant impact on a nonprofit’s bottom line, lending financial support is far from the only meaningful way that constituents can support a cause. For 16 years, we’ve helped nonprofits to break through the clutter by developing meaningful messages that drive audiences to action. While many of those nonprofit communications have supported development programs, we’ve crafted just as many, if not more, that have helped nonprofits to build strong relationships with prospective donors and drive action without asking for money. Why? Because it is significantly easier to ask someone who knows your cause, believes in your cause and understands the impact their donation could have to write a check than it is to start a brand new relationship by asking for money.
Knowing who you are vs. understanding what you do
If you were to ask every person who knows the name of your organization to explain what the organization does, how many of them would answer correctly? If you told a stranger where you worked, how many would recognize the name yet be unaware of the work your organization is doing in the community? If you expect people to support your cause financially, they need to understand not just the ‘who you are’ but also the ‘what you do.’ Think of it as the difference between perceiving Tom’s Shoes as stylish and knowing that for every pair purchased Tom’s helps one person in need.
Where to start
When identifying ways to engage a new pool of prospective donors and broaden your organization’s reach, think about meaningful ways that people can show support without writing a check. Perhaps they could…
- – Attend an infosession about your cause at a new restaurant or attraction that the community is eager to explore. Perhaps the restaurant or venue would consider being an event partner or event sponsor and either discounting the food or space or providing a door prize that attendees can enter to win. This satisfies the ‘what’s in it for me’ component while helping folks to move past knowing just who you are and begin learning what you do. To ensure a successful turnout, attendee recruitment should be done through a mix of online and offline communications.
- – Volunteer at an event or fundraiser, or tackle a related community service project with a group of friends or colleagues. Both corporations and affinity groups alike are often eager to use community service as a teambuilding tool. This is a great way to help new audiences become connected with your cause. This connection may motivate them to take further action and sometimes that includes lending monetary support.
- – Spearhead their own community service project. Perhaps you are a children’s literacy organization in need of book donations. Maybe you are running a holiday gift drive for your children’s shelter. Whether it’s helping to collect donations, organize donations that have been collected or pen hand-written ‘thank you’ notes to donors, manpower can make a meaningful impact.
- – Be a part of something big…by doing something small. I was recently introduced to DoSomething.org’s Peanut Butter and Jam Slam, an online initiative that encouraged young people to take a small step towards ending hunger in their community by running a peanut butter and jam drive in their own community. From March 19 – May 14 participants could host their drive and join the cause online, allowing the nonprofit to track success. Participants were able to promote their involvement through social networks and, as an incentive to host a drive, participants had the chance to win scholarships.
The Peanut Butter and Jam Slam is a great example of thinking big without overwhelming one’s audience. The campaign also gets an ‘A’ for:
- Localizing a national challenge – hunger
- Breaking down geographic barriers to participation
- Integrating online and offline activities to make a measurable impact while increasing brand visibility and awareness
- Creating a sense of urgency by limiting the campaign duration
- Empowering people to become problem solvers
- Running the campaign during a time of year when food bank donations aren’t top of mind and the broader environment isn’t cluttered with similar, competing initiatives
Before you write your next appeal letter or ask a stranger to make a donation, think about how you can engage these audiences in a meaningful way that bolsters their understanding of your organization’s work in the community, strengthens their connection to the cause and lays the foundation for them to become a donor in the future. It’s the difference between walking into a networking event and saying, ‘Hi, I work for XYZ Nonprofit which helps ensure low income families have access to nutritious meals’ and introducing yourself with ‘Hi, I work for XYZ Nonprofit. Would you like to donate $50 to help provide low income families with access to nutritious meals?’