Nonprofits Show Fundraising Flexibility & Creativity

As nonprofits continue their rebound from a dismal fundraising year in 2009, they’ve learned a few lessons about how to survive and thrive. While established fundraising methods such as grants, events, and direct mail continue, nonprofits are increasingly seeking new ways to get creative and add flexibility to their fundraising approach.

Forming Affinity Groups

Nonprofits are forming affinity fundraising groups—networks of minorities—to help them access populations that are generally difficult to access. The San Francisco Public Library mobilized nine affinity groups from minority communities to raise nearly one-third of its $34 million campaign. The funds went towards sponsoring special centers in the library for each group’s own interests as well as for the library in general. Trying to raise funds on their own, the library would have had a hard time getting through to these diverse groups who tend to contribute to special-interest rather than mainstream causes.

Part of affinity groups’ success comes from asking donors to make “stretch gifts,” donations larger than they would normally give. Since affinity group members have something in common, they are more likely to grow naturally, an important factor in a highly connected world.

Going Super Size

Nonprofits have taken cues from political fundraisers by hosting super events, coordinated events in multiple locations hosted by different people, but in support of the same cause. To gain cohesion and reach out to larger numbers, event organizers open up a conference call among key supporters or host a live Internet event or video call. That way people can “attend” the event without ever leaving the home. This approach is similar to how organizations like Fannie Mae are using “virtual walking” as a substitute for people who cannot or choose not to participate in their Help the Homeless Walk.

In addition to gathering large numbers of people across disparate regions, super events are cost and time effective. Rather than devote resources to supporting a host who wants to hold a small event, combining the efforts of many small hosts into one large event provides a higher return and greater visibility, making everyone’s job easier and more effective.

Offering an Evening Out

The Nonprofits and the Economy Survey released in July 2011 found that given the continued economic slump and weak consumer confidence, events are increasingly welcomed by people as an opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves while contributing to a good cause. To make up for the funding shortage and difficulty in hosting events, some groups have looked to partnerships to fill the gap. Others have switched gears by focusing less on attracting people to events and more on generating money at the events through silent auctions.

Adding Social Media

Social media keeps on increasing in popularity. The survey found that eight percent of responding charities added social networking links to their communications in the first half of 2011. Respondents also favored the web as a way to solicit donations because it gives people a way to respond easily and immediately to a crisis. The Haiti earthquake in 2010 saw a major increase in SMS/texting as a fundraising tool, a method that continues to increase along with other technological tools.

What Comes Next

There’s strong interest among nonprofits to access the wildly popular Kickstarter funding platform for their own purposes rather than just for creative projects. If this shift happens, it would open up a proven funding model that works similarly to challenge grants, in that groups have to reach their required funding amount to enact the project they set out to fund otherwise the would-be donors get their money back and the project doesn’t happen.

As technology becomes even more central to people’s lives, nonprofits that stay abreast of technological progress will reap the greatest rewards. People are always looking for something new. By knowing what the next big communication medium or funding platform is, and putting it to use, an organization can gain that much-needed fundraising edge.

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