Fundraising Strategies and Plans
We recently had Emily Fitchpatrick on The Ministry Growth Show and the insight she shared in the EPISODE provided some really valuable direction on a couple of topics that every ministry, no matter how successful, are looking to improve upon. Emily started her career in the ministry space working for the Billy Graham Association. She’s worked in ministry for 15 years and started the first home for sex trafficked girls in the United States called On Eagles Wings. Emily grew the organization from an idea to a staff of 14 and a $1.5 million yearly budget. Emily now serves ministries as a consultant and coach guiding non-profits through her consultancy, Flagship Equip. In the episode, our conversation centered around fundraising and marketing. Earlier in the week, I shared an ARTICLE on fundraising mindset shifts, and today I will be following up and expanding on the discussion we had on fundraising strategies.
During our conversation, I asked Emily how she encourages and trains ministry leaders to deal with ministry growth. As our ministries grow and our donor bases increase, it becomes more and more difficult to keep the community element strong. Communication becomes more and more difficult and keeping your donors informed, educated, and inspired can become overwhelming. Emily’s encouragement was to first find a customer relationship management (CRM) software or donor platform that can help you keep track of your donor base. I did a search on a software review site that delivered 747 results on CRM’s. There are plenty of options on the market and I have no doubt there are exponentially more reviews on each of those CRM’s. I’m not going to go into CRM’s in this article, except to say, if your organization is growing and you can’t provide the donor care that you NEED to be providing, then it’s time to get a CRM to help automate some of your communication. As ministries, there is never a good reason, financial or otherwise, not to consistently communicate with your partners and supporters. Get a CRM as soon as it makes sense.
The second recommendation that Emily makes is to map out a fundraising and donor care strategy for your entire year, and this is where I want to focus my attention in this article. For most of my career, I have had a negative view of plans and schedules. Obviously, there always had to be some scheduling with client meetings and deadlines, but entrepreneurship for me was this opportunity to do what I wanted, when I wanted, without the constraints of being told what to do. I thought I wanted to be spontaneous and I naively thought that this pursuit would lead to my freedom. In the end, this pursuit put huge strains on both my career life and my personal life and almost destroyed everything I’ve ever set out to create. As much as it would pain my younger self to say, if done correctly, schedules and plans can create incredible freedom when done right. They can open up doors to increased productivity and give you more time in your day, week, month and year than you ever thought existed.
“When you get a clear plan, and really work the plan, it can become very freeing.”
Now, why am I talking about schedules and how does what I just shared apply to fundraising? Sitting down and taking the time to develop a yearly fundraising schedule and strategy could be the single most significant task you could do for your ministry growth this year. Every single successful organization I have ever talked to has a well scheduled and strategized plan for their yearly fundraising and donor care. Both Emily and I hear from ministries of all sizes all the time that they wait to do all or most of their fundraising during a single chunk of time, usually towards the end of the year. Yes, end of year campaigns are great, but the most successful ministries in the world have a plan for consistent fundraising and donor care mapped out for the entire year. Emily gave a great analogy during our conversation. She said that your fundraising and donor care communication should look like, “drip coffee.”
It’s important to slowly drip feed stories, content, education, and updates to our donor base on a consistent basis. When we communicate on a more consistent basis, communication can come in more manageable and bite-sized pieces. No one reads a 6-page newsletter, even if that newsletter is the only piece of content you share all year. We should have a goal of creating consumable content on a consistent basis spread throughout the year. In order to grow successful organizations, we need to think long term and we need to think in terms of brand loyalty and brand advocacy. Whether you like it or not, your ministry is a brand. When you communicate consistently, it’s easier to keep your ministry top of mind for your donor base. They are also more likely to stay loyal to partnership in your organization when they consistently see that their investment is being used to support the work you do on a regular basis. It’s dangerous to leave a donor in the dark because of gaps in communication. They are more likely to forget your organization and move their funds to another ministry that is more top of mind.
So what does that look like tangibly? It can be overwhelming to try and come up with fresh and new content on a consistent basis, right? It can be expensive to tell stories regularly, especially when you begin talking about video production. We believe that within every ministry there are a lot of things you can do to stay in communication with your donor base on a consistent basis.
- Thank you notes and cards go along way and are quick and simple. They can be in the form of handwritten notes, emails, text messages or phone calls. Remember our recent ARTICLE, we said that fundraising is all about relationships. A quick thank you goes a long way and keeps your brand top of mind.
- We encourage organizations to break their communication down into three categories. Education, Information, and Inspiration.
- Education is one of the most powerful ways of building brand loyalty. When your donors are educated, they want to share their knowledge with their own networks and you can begin building brand advocates. Educate your donor base on the specific issue your ministry exists to solve. If you run an organization with a humanitarian element to your work, I would venture to say that there is endless education that can be done on your topic of focus. Break that content down into small bite-sized pieces and share it with your audience. If you can, try and tie your education content to a story. Data and statistics are great ways to educate, but they can be dry and are much more powerful when used to support a story.
- Information is the category where your updates fall under. Tell your donors what’s going on in your ministry. What changes have taken place over the last couple of weeks or months? What are some new strategies you are trying? Transparency is huge and donors appreciate information on your organization. Just like education, if you can, try to tie information back to a story. “Here’s a change we recently had to our strategy, and we believe this new approach will allow us to change lives more effectively like so and so beneficiary.”
- Inspiration is the third category and we would argue it is your most powerful category of content. This is where you tell your stories with words, images, and videos. Regardless of the medium, tell your stories as often as possible. This is where you really get to show off how God is working in your ministry.
- Face to face meetings over coffee, or dare I say it… a beer can be a great way to share your ministry and vision in a more intimate setting or update a pre-existing donor on what’s been going on in your ministry. Schedule a make time throughout your year to regularly make these meetings happen. If they’re spread out over the course of a year, you don’t have to worry about cramming meetings into a single fundraising period like you would if a majority of all of your fundraising takes place from October to December.
- Lastly, how can you provide a prospective donor value? This last recommendation is not necessarily an actionable item you can take and implement right now, but I hope it serves as an idea spark. Is there some piece of content you can create that would provide value for your donor? Can you come up with something that provides them real value? If so, I want to encourage you to create that piece of content and then give it away for free. I’m sure you’ve heard of the term, “Content Marketing.” What I’ve just described is content marketing, and it can be a powerful tool to develop your current relationships and build new ones. There is a catch though, this idea is pretty widely used, so whatever you create needs to actually provide your donor or potential donor with REAL VALUE. Once you’ve got your piece of content ready, now you’ve got a legitimate reason to ask for an email address from a prospective donor.
These are just a few things you can do to start strategizing and thinking about increased consistency in your content and communication. Emily gave an example of an organization she has worked with in the past. She said when she came in the ministry was sending out a single piece of direct mail per year. After sitting down and scheduling a clear yearly strategy Emily had them sending 4 pieces of mail each year, they added a postcard to their strategy, they started incorporating phone calls, handwritten notes, and good news reports, and the giving has increased just because of the increased communication. Consistently communicate with your donors, you’ll stay top of mind, you’ll get to share how the Lord is working through your organization more often, and the result will be an increase in brand loyalty and advocacy towards your ministry.
“This can be overwhelming. Do what you can.”
One last piece of encouragement. Do what you can. This can be overwhelming, but do what you can and pray. Just remember, that scheduling out your year and mapping out a strategy for your fundraising will ultimately be freeing. If you need help in this space, our team at Reliant Creative and Emily’s team at Flagship Equip can help you get on your feet and begin building strategies and plans that succeed.