Practical Strategies for Not-for-Profit Fundraising in a Changing Environment


Written by Jeanne Mullgrav, Executive Vice President of Capalino, leader of our Corporate Social Responsibility practice and not-for-profit expert. 

From February 22 to February 24, the DMA Nonprofit Federation sponsored a conference called: Disrupt: Change yourself. Change your organization. Change the World in Washington, DC. With hundreds of attendees coming from across the country and as far away as Japan, the nation’s capital was a fitting location to challenge nonprofits to confront the issues facing the sector.

Clearly, nonprofits are trying to ascertain the impact of the new Trump administration: what shifts will take place in funding priorities? How will decreases in social services and Medicaid spending, increased use of block granting, and a move away from cities affect my organization’s bottom line? How will regulations be reduced or changed in the areas of the environment, animal welfare and education?  And how will the tax reforms affect charitable giving and reduce the assets of moderate-income donors?

These were the questions that permeated the conference and were heightened by the keynote delivered by White House correspondent Mara Liasson, NPR’s award-winning national political correspondent. Her remarks recapped the rocky first 30 days of the Trump Administration and set the stage for the very practical learning sessions that followed.

Here are a few things to know about how nonprofits can creatively acquire, retain and grow their donor base within this changing landscape:

Tap Into Donor-Advised Funds

Anticipating changes in the tax law, many donors have parked their money in donor advised accounts (DAF). These funds are required to go to charitable organizations, but most entities do not seek these donors out because they never ask the question of potential donors.  Identifying and cultivating DAF donors should be a key part of your fundraising strategy. There are 260,000 donor advised account holders – many of whom are still working and are in the 51 to 70 age range.

Disrupt Your Acquisition Program

You should be thinking critically and unconventionally about your fundraising approach. For example, make sure your messaging incorporates social proofing—i.e. relying on the actions of others to reflect correct behavior. If you list the average donation in a given community, it helps. Plan ahead for an emergency, so that your mailing is ready to go when it happens. Send follow up emails to donors who do not complete their gifts—targeting cart abandonment. Instead of sad themes, experiment with happy messaging, which resonates better with donors.

Consider Mobile Fundraising

With mobile devices becoming ever-more dominant, optimizing your online presence for mobile is imperative. Mobile fundraising has taken off in the UK and other countries abroad, but has not been fully embraced here in America (though some organizations have taken the plunge successfully, perhaps most notably the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign). Fundraising tactics including SMS messaging as well as two-stage recruitment (where a person texts a code and then receives a personal call) make it easy for donors to make their first gift.

The Web is a Living Laboratory

In today’s world of graphics and images, people avoid reading a lot of text. They scroll, so make your content vertical.  Clarity trumps persuasion, so keep your writing straightforward and avoid the clever.   Personalize as much as possible and test your donation page, email sign-up, copy and landing page. Be aware that “pop ups” can be annoying and sometimes are better kept to the corner.  Make sure your website is optimized for mobile and uses search engine optimization (SEO) for better search results.

Focus on the Donor Experience

There is a lot of discussion around the idea of “donor centricity” today, which highlights the growing importance of taking the donor experience into account in order to sustain support in the long run. From being mindful of your frequency of contact (to avoid donor irritation), to understanding donors’ personal connection to your organization, to responding quickly and meaningfully to complaints, listening to your donors is the best retention strategy.

Be Ready to Adapt

We do not yet know with certainty what the impact of this changing landscape will be on the nonprofit sector or on individual organizations. What we do know is that in any uncertain environment, creative fundraising plans that diversify your portfolio, connect with individuals, measure effectiveness, and are nimble will serve your organization well.

To learn more about how Capalino can help your not-for-profit, visit:

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