I am currently chairing my church’s stewardship campaign. (Stewardship being another way to say “fundraising” of course.)
I find myself switching hats often. Fundraising professional vs. volunteer. What I’ve learned vs. our situation. This is an all-volunteer effort, and we’re a small church. But as with so many nonprofits, we also have fixed costs that don’t vary with how many people attend or give.
This is not a situation unique to places of worship, of course. Many small nonprofits depend on a corps of volunteers to do their work. And about 25% of us in the US are volunteering in some capacity.
But if your organization is all-volunteer, or mostly volunteer-powered, how do you raise money? Without professionals to guide the process, where do you start?
Hang on while I change my hat…
Don’t fear the fundraising
I know, easier said than done. But if you want people to help, you can’t scare them off. And if you create plans based on who you have to work with and what their strengths are, you’ll do better.
So what skills do you look for?
Who are the connectors? Who stays in touch with various groups within your organization? Who knows what’s going on with everyone?
Who are the communicators? These may be people who are comfortable with public speaking. They might be writers. They might be adept at social media.
Who has stories to share? Even the most shy and quiet people may have wonderful stories to share. How can you make that easy for them to do?
Who are the planners? Yes, even a “small” fundraising campaign needs to be organized. And I’ll bet you have people right there who love a good spreadsheet. Can they project-manage the campaign?
Start from the inside
Once you’ve identified people with the skills you need, start there. Would they agree to give first? Make sure they understand that their example will inspire others.
Then consider who else you can go to. In a religious congregation, the list is probably available and limited. People outside the list of congregants are not likely prospects.
But many small nonprofits have a board of directors who are also the active volunteers. Begin there, with their gifts. Then look outwards to the next circle. Who benefits from your work? Who else cares about it?
You don’t have to jump on the phone now. Just define the circles of potential support you could look to.
This is where your connectors can shine. Ask them to think about networks. Who might care to give? Who could they introduce to your organization? But please be sure these are people with interest – not just the contents of your connector’s contact list. And understand that these new relationships will take time to develop. Don’t start with an ask!
Answer the big question
The big question? Why.
Why does this organization matter? What about our work would inspire people to support it financially?
You want to create what’s called a case statement. But you don’t need a fancy document. Right now, you need to put together all the best arguments for supporting your organization.
How to do this? You can host a gathering and ask people to contribute ideas. You could create a survey. You could talk to as many people as possible and keep track of their responses.
Just keep it focused – this isn’t a chance to ask ALL THE QUESTIONS. You want to know their answers to just one: why?
Time to ask and ask again
So you’re well-organized. You have buy-in from your inner circle of volunteers. You know who you can ask. And you know why someone might give.
Time to start asking. Yes, it can feel intimidating. But as a small organization, your ability to be personal is your superpower.
Find ways for as many of your volunteers as possible to be involved here. And while face to face requests will always be the most successful, don’t neglect other ways to ask.
Your writer can put together an appeal. You can use your social media channels and email to share it. You can hand-deliver very personal requests to people when the group is together.
Just be sure you’re keeping track of who has been explicitly, personally, asked. (That is, a letter, an email, a face to face request.) Your project manager people can take charge here.
Don’t get too focused on tools, though. They can be very useful, but they’re not magic. (My friend Eric has put together a useful post about church giving apps. Check it out for good advice!)
Then remember it’s not over
Your request may need to be repeated before you succeed. And you will want to keep your group updated on results. Those old thermometers can work – show your progress!
You’ll want a way to track these gifts. And as people commit to a gift, be sure they’re thanked promptly and personally. And don’t take them out of the information stream. They are now the most invested in the campaign’s success – be sure they know how it’s going.
It’s not easy, of course
Small organizations need a very committed group of people to grow. And it can feel like you’ll never get there. But most successful organizations started where you are now. So carry on. Learn. Do better next time.
And in the meantime, here’s a good list of ways to raise more money for your organization. I wouldn’t suggest these can substitute for gifts from your nearest and dearest. But they can help!