Nonprofit Fundraising 101: A Practical Guide With Easy to Implement Ideas and Tips From Industry Experts

Fundraising expert and social entrepreneur Darian Rodriguez Heyman describes his latest book, Nonprofit Fundraising 101: A Practical Guide with Easy to Implement Ideas and Tips From Industry Experts, as "the first comprehensive, practical guide to all aspects of nonprofit fundraising" and a "yellow pages for social change." Perhaps, though the former seems a little more to the point.

As such, the book covers everything from the hiring and training of development staff and how to engage board members and volunteers (Part 1); to choosing the right databases to track donors and gauge your fundraising progress (Part 2); to maximizing gifts and grants from individual donors (Part 3), online platforms (Part 4), foundations (Part 5), and corporations (Part 6); to increasing earned income through social enterprise (Part 7). Short and full of practical advice, each chapter follows a consistent framework that includes the critical skills and competencies needed to succeed in that particular fundraising area, case studies and sidebar material, a list of dos and don'ts, and a resource list.

Although he has held leadership positions in both the private and public sectors, co-founded a number of companies that support nonprofits, and edited Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals (2011), Heyman understands that he's not the only fundraising expert with something to offer. Indeed, every chapter of the book includes advice from experts with hands-on experience in a particular area of fundraising — whether individual giving, special events, corporate sponsorships, mobile giving, or government grants. And one of his main points is that nonprofits serve a vital function as a conduit between donors and social impact, with board members and volunteers playing a critical supporting role. Quoting Kay Sprinkel Grace, author of Beyond Fund Raising, he reminds his readers that "[p]eople don't give to you because you have needs. They give to you because you meet needs."

So, how should nonprofit fundraisers approach potential donors? According to Mal Warwick, direct mail is still a viable option for organizations with large donor lists and budgets of at least $1 million, while smaller grassroots organizations are better off focusing on online fundraising and building relationships with individual donors. For those organizations that use direct mail, the key to success is getting to know the top 5 percent of your donors. At the same time, Heyman cautions against focusing solely on large donations; the key to successful fundraising and securing major gifts is stewardship — regardless of gift amount. And one element of good stewardship is knowing what donors care about and what drives their giving, making a connection with those you are appealing to, and remembering "what matters to them — not just what feels critical to you or your organization." 

It also is important to diversify your fundraising channels with an eye to your donor demographics. Event-focused marketing platform Eventbrite, for instance, discovered that three out of four millennials it surveyed would rather spend money on an experience — like an event — than simply donate to a cause, while more than two-thirds said that attendance at an event makes them feel more connected to a cause. To build a base of individual supporters, in other words, fundraisers need to reach out and engage their target audience, and community-based fundraising events like runs, walks, and races are a great way to meet donors "where they're at."

Where millennials are at a lot is online, and Heyman looks at a number of channels and platforms that can help you take advantage of that fact and maximize your fundraising, including your website, email, various social media channels, and mobile giving. Yes, it's a lot of work, and to help you stay organized, he suggests using an editorial calendar — or even better, integrating various calendars into a master calendar to ensure that everyone in the organization is on the same page and thinking strategically about all outbound communications, online or off. He also highlights (and recommends) Beth Kanter's P.O.S.T framework for social media and crowdfunding — P is for People You are Trying to Reach, O is for Objectives, S is for Social, and T is for Tools. The key, however, is creating a social media presence that engages your target audience(s); telling a story that is compelling, concise, and credible; clearly communicating to audience members the impact of their donations; and using the right tools to manage your cultivation and stewardship efforts. And while he acknowledges that mobile apps are gaining traction in the fundraising world, he advises nonprofits to start with the basics — first and foremost, a simple, well-designed website — and not to toss all your apples into the app basket before your website and email efforts have been optimized for people who don't necessarily live on their phones.

Board members, too, are a key part of the equation, and as nonprofit coach, consultant, and facilitator Lisa Hoffman notes in her chapter ("Engaging Your Board"), nonprofits that hope to enlist their board members as passionate, and productive, advocates for the cause first need to determine what it is they are looking for, and need, in a board member. Only then should they establish fundraising expectations for each board member, being sure to provide training and support while engaging each board member individually. Many of those things, including establishing clearly defined roles; creating clarity around purpose, goals, and expectations; and providing continual feedback are important to successfully engaging volunteer fundraisers as well, says Simon Tam, director of marketing for the Oregon Environmental Council and author of How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements. In fact, "if you treat volunteers the way you do staff and potential donors," Tam tells Heyman, "you'll know you're on the right track."

As with fundraising from individuals, applying for foundation or government grants requires getting to know the funder and building relationships. It goes without saying that the first step in this process is to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of grantmakers out there — private, family, and corporate foundations; community foundations and donor-advised funds; and government agencies — and which ones are likely be a viable prospect for your organization. In his chapter about writing a winning proposal, Heyman even argues that, with few exceptions, fundraisers should only apply for grants that they've been invited to apply, while acknowledging that it's not necessarily the consensus view among the experts he interviewed.

Earned-income strategies and social enterprise also get a chapter in the book, with guest contributor Rick Aubry, founder of New Foundry Ventures, a professor of social enterprise at Tulane University, and a former president of California-based Rubicon Programs, a nonprofit provider of housing, training, employment, and mental health services, cautioning that such a strategy should only be pursued when it directly advances an organization's mission. In support of his assertion, Aubry highlights the successful case study of Grow Dat, a youth development nonprofit in New Orleans that nurtures young leaders "through the meaningful work of growing food" whose earned-revenue activities include farm tours, farm dinners, and community classes.

Throughout his "yellow pages" of a book, Heyman does more than provide practical advice: he's a sympathetic cheerleader for the nonprofit sector and the people who work in it. "I encourage you to stop often and reconnect with your mission," he writes. "Focus first and foremost on establishing your personal connection to the cause, and then sharing that vision with others, along with a realistic plan for achieving it. Then people will want to join you and support both your vision and your plan."

If he leaves out some important tools in the fundraising tool kit, most notably tribute gifts and planned giving, that's okay. Nonprofit Fundraising 101 is a wonderful primer for students who are learning about fundraising and fundraisers new to the job, as well as a clear, well-organized resource for more experienced fundraisers eager to learn a new aspect of their profession.