4 min Read
March 14, 2014

Putting Your Eggs in Lots of Baskets: Tips for diversifying your fundraising

Katherine Lindstedt

What do all sustainable fundraising strategies have in common? Diversity. In other words, yes, that old adage about not putting too many eggs in one basket applies to the nonprofit sector.

You never—and I’m not usually one to say never—want to depend on a limited number of sources for all of your funding, for a variety of reasons. At its core, diverse fundraising is really about your nonprofit’s long-term resiliency, and we’ve seen many organizations take on the challenge of rethinking or expanding how they raise money, usually aming to reach more individual donors.

You don’t need me to tell you that it can be a challenging process, one that takes time and money. And like so many other long-term investments, it’s as important and worthwhile as it is difficult to implement, the sort of thing that’s all too easily forgotten amidst the more urgent demands of your day-to-day work. Luckily, there are things you can do to make the process as successful and pain-free as possible. Here are a few tips.

Set the stage internally.

Getting things in order internally is key to making any communications-related initiative a success, but it’s especially important if you’re setting out to diversify your fundraising, something that requires dedicated and knowledgeable staff who are empowered to implement changes over time. You’ll need clarity on your specific goals as well as clarity on their implications, in terms of what you’ll be asking of your team in the coming months (and years). In other words, “making this a part of so-and-so’s job” isn’t really a viable solution. You might even want to consider whether or not you need to create a new role. Remember that investing early in building your team’s skills will pay off in the long run.

Get your priorities in order.

Maybe major donors are some of your likeliest prospects. Perhaps it’s the other way around, and reaching out to low-level donors is your best bet. Whatever your situation is, decide what you want to prioritize and identifiy some clear goals. If you’re not sure where to start, take a close look at your resources. You might have some great opportunities to reach out to potential major donors through your board, or even their connections.

It’s all about relationships.

Developing (and maintaining) strong relationships is key to reaching out to individual donors. There are different things you’ll want to think about depending on whether you’re focusing on major gifts or lower-level donations. Here are some more specific things to experiment with as you build these connections:

  • It’s important to remember that although foundations and individual donors are both sources of funding, they’re entirely different. Foundations exist solely to give out money to organizations like yours, if not yours specifically. People don’t. You need to work extra hard to get them to give money to your nonprofit. Compelling stories go far.
  • If you’re prioritizing major donors, you’ll want to invest in the materials you need to make a powerful impression in person, whether that means developing a nice leave-behind, a presentation, or talking points.
  • Unlike the majority of your lower-level donors, major donors will want to hear the nitty-gritty details about your programs and your impact and to feel, overall, like partners in your work.
  • In terms of reaching out to lower-level donors, you’ll want to develop an ongoing campaign calendar. Focus on growing your social media presence, building your list, and giving everyone in your community ongoing ways to get and stay involved, even beyond donating. There’s a nifty little concept we like to refer to as the ladder of engagement, and it’s extremely useful in instances like these.

Send the right messages.

When it comes to growing your fundraising program, your brand—including your messaging—is really a tool you can use to help build the strong relationships that you need. A successful nonprofit brand communicates what makes your organization unique and helps people connect with it on an emotional level, which puts you way ahead of the fundraising game. If you don’t have a strong foundation in you brand or in the messages you’re sending, that might mean it’s a great time to rethink your communications more broadly with your fundraising goals in mind.

Remember, patience is a virtue.

Diversifying your fundraising is a long-term process. It takes time, hard work, thoughtful planning—and patience. (Realistic expectations are probably a good idea, too.) It’s unlikely that you’ll see the results immediately—it’s a big shift, and individual donor programs usually take a couple of years before you’ll really start to see a difference, though there may be some initial returns—but it’s an investment you can make today that’s sure to pay off in the long term.

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