How to Create a Prosperous Fundraising Campaign

My son and I go camping with the Boy Scouts almost every month. Even in the winter. 🙂

Scouts develop meal plans, assign kitchen duties and other roles. They pack tents and cooking gear, and prepare for almost every possible situation. And because they thoroughly prepare, every camping trip is successful (read: no trips to the hospital).

But “being prepared” is not just a Boy Scout thing. The value of preparation also applies to any fundraising campaign. The more prepared you are, the more likely you will hit (and exceed) your goals.

So how should you prepare? In this post, I’ll outline the three key areas to focus on:

1. Understand your people (your audience segments)
2. Develop your story (your messaging and your ask)
3. Write it down (your fundraising plan)

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Understand your people

The biggest mistake many nonprofits make is treating everyone in their database the same. Successful nonprofits understand that each person has a different relationship with their organization, so create a strategy for each audience segment.

Examples of audience segments to consider:

  • People who gave last year
  • First-time donors
  • Repeat donors
  • Small, mid, major donors
  • Newsletter subscribers and other email lists

Next, you want to develop an understanding of what motivates your supporters. Their reasons, not yours. And those reasons need to be emotional, not big statistics or assumptions you’ve made about why they give. You can begin researching each audience segment by asking the following questions:

  • Which campaigns drove the most donations?
  • Which programs matter most to donors?
  • Which stories drove the highest conversions for each segment?

Lastly, you can use tools like Facebook Insights and Facebook Audience Insights to get a better sense for the topics and interests that engage your community.

Step 2: Develop your story

Once you understand your people, you’ll need to develop your story.

Without a solid story, you’ll lack the emotional oomph that’s needed to engage supporters during your annual appeal.

Statistics won’t cut it, bragging about your nonprofit won’t cut it, and certainly begging won’t cut it.

But what if you’re not a natural storyteller? Well, everyone is. In fact, we’re all deeply hard-wired for stories.

Just make sure your story follows the Person Problem Payoff formula:

1. The Person

If a story doesn’t hook people in the first few milliseconds, it won’t move people to take action.

Your story needs to create an emotional connection between your supporter and one person.

2. The Problem

Great stories hold our attention with a problem. Problems make your supporters pay attention until the problem is solved. They may even want to solve it themselves!

Problems are page-turners. Will the grandmother win her fight against breast cancer so she see her grandkids?

3. The Payoff

The payoff is the resolution to problem, and thus, the story. It’s is so essential, that without a it, you really don’t have a story.

You can’t have “once upon a time” without “happily ever after”.

The payoff is also your call-to-action. It’s where you invite your supporter to play a part in how the story ends: Give clean water, feed a hungry child, stop the hate, etc.

Step 3: Write it down

It’s not a plan if it’s not written down. Surprisingly (or not), many nonprofits have a written plan for year-end. Create a written plan NOW for year-end. This will instantly place you ahead of the pack!

So what does a plan actually look like?

The POST method, originally coined by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in their book, Groundswell (Harvard Business Review Press) is a proven framework for developing any online strategy.

P – People

You can’t achieve even a basic level of success in a fundraising campaign if you don’t understand your people. No one will like, retweet, or repin your blog post if you haven’t answered the only question that really matters: What’s in it for them?1

O – Objectives

Clear objectives helps you determine if your fundraising campaign was successful or not. Long-term success on social media requires a lot of trial and error. But you have to know what’s a trial and what’s an error.

S – Strategy

Your strategy is more than just a plan. It’s a plan that will meet your objectives based on what you know about your people.

In other words, strategy is about a value exchange. What are you going to give in exchange for their email, money, time, influence and attention?

T – Technology

Once you understand your people, objective, and strategy, you can confidently select the tools and tactics you’ll use for your fundraising campaign. For example, if your strategy is to engage Millennials on Instagram, crowdsourcing content around a hashtag would be a tactic.

Do it now

Again, don’t put preparations off until the last minute.

John Haydon