Ultimate guide to nonprofit fundraising


By: Kaz Weida

Nonprofit fundraising is the heart of every successful charitable organization. And it’s not just because fundraising is the primary income for most nonprofits. A steady stream of donations and events also raises awareness within the community and keeps donors mission-focused and engaged. In 2020, Americans gave $471 billion to charitable organizations, with an increase among individual donors compensating for a decline in corporate giving.

Fortunately, building a successful nonprofit fundraising machine to leverage that momentum doesn’t need to be a herculean effort. Creating a flurry of social media activity and organizing events can seem exhausting and expensive, but there are ways to generate charitable donations that don’t have to break the bank. The goal of a nonprofit fundraising strategy is to build a donor base that efficiently and consistently equips your army of volunteers with the tools and resources they need to make a difference.

Creating a nonprofit fundraising strategy 

The fundraising strategy for some charities seems to amount to little more than picking random fundraising ideas for nonprofit organizations from a hat. To see consistent success, follow these tips to build a nonprofit fundraising strategy that’ll tick all the boxes for potential donors.

Refine your brand story

Your nonprofit organization’s ability to fundraise is directly tied to the enthusiasm and engagement it generates among potential donors. Start by building a compelling, nonprofit brand story and make sure every stakeholder and volunteer can articulate your mission clearly and simply.

Set fundraising goals

Before you design a nonprofit fundraising strategy, it helps to set goals. Think of your fundraising goals as the destination and your fundraising strategy as the roadmap for how to get there. Focus on SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.

Find a fundraising team

Some of your board members, employees, and volunteers are going to be better suited to fundraising efforts than others. Build your fundraising team out with people who are not only passionate about the mission but have a natural affinity for organizing events and feel at home on social media.

Know your donors

In business, knowing your customers can help hone a sales strategy that connects. In the nonprofit world, knowing your donors has similar benefits. Draft a few donor personas based on what you know about the individuals and businesses most likely to support your work. Use these donor personas to direct your outreach and refine your fundraising messaging.

Design a nonprofit fundraising plan

Implementing a careful and thoughtful nonprofit fundraising plan can help organizations raise revenue ethically. Take time to define the tactics you’ll use to fundraise, the methods you’ll provide to receive funds, and what sort of nonprofit marketing you’ll engage in to raise awareness. 

Produce consistent, on-brand messaging

Once you’ve solidified your nonprofit brand story, it should be sprinkled liberally into everything you do, from social media posts to online fundraising and in-person events. Research shows the biggest driver of donations among millennials is a compelling cause, so make sure your nonprofit brand story is front and center.

Build donor trust

Transparency is important to any business, but it’s vital to the health of nonprofits. Your donors need to trust that your organization is investing money in ways that matter. Be transparent about how donations are spent and report back to donors so they can see the outcome of their charitable investment.

Follow up with a thank you

Circling back to donors to express appreciation may seem perfunctory, but it’s an important part of creating rapport and community. Donors who require receipts for tax purposes will appreciate the outreach, but it’s also an opportunity to build in a little donor loyalty. More than 15% of annual revenue came from recurring donations for nonprofit organizations who followed up by offering the option.

Nonprofit fundraising ideas

While there are a lot of ways to raise money for a nonprofit, types of donations fall into two distinct categories: individual donors and corporate giving. The kind of nonprofit fundraising ideas you pursue may depend on what sorts of donations you’re hoping to attract.

It’s also worthwhile to consider diversifying your fundraising so you don’t rely too much on one channel. The goal is to reach donors where they are, whether that’s direct mail, online, or on social media platforms. Here are a few fundraising methods to consider:

  • Personal fundraising: Lean into your network and use it to advance a cause you believe in. Friends and family are more likely to give when they have a personal connection to the organization.

  • Online donations: From email campaigns to those donate buttons on websites — this is the primary method most nonprofits use to solicit donations.

  • Event fundraising: Who doesn’t love a party? Encourage board members and volunteers to host silent auctions, charity galas, and more to solicit donations.

  • Direct mail fundraising: Pamphlets and mailers are a great way to grab the attention of donors. In a digital world, it can be refreshing to get mail that isn’t a bill.

  • Crowdfunding campaigns: Partner with a crowdfunding platform to promote your nonprofit organization with a specific call to action.

  • Social media campaigns: If you want to solicit donations, it helps to go where people hang out, and increasingly, that’s on social media. Allow influencers to do a takeover of your account to amplify campaigns and grow your audience.

  • Mobile and text donations: When you make it convenient, you give donors fewer reasons to say no. Swipe, text, scan and give everyone more ways to give on the go.

Last but not least, consider corporate giving as an opportunity to grow your organization. In 2019, The National Philanthropic Trust estimated corporations donated over 75 billion to charitable organizations. Partnering with businesses not only generates a good chunk of revenue but also grows awareness among employees for your nonprofit. Corporate giving can take many forms, including matching gifts, corporate grants, employee events, and even in-kind donations like supplies, products, or equipment.

More fundraising ideas for a nonprofit organization

Now that we’ve discussed both fundraising strategy and methods, let’s start digging through a treasure chest of practical ideas you can implement to generate revenue. Nonprofits have faced some significant challenges recently in soliciting donations due to the pandemic, so we’ll divide and conquer with both in-person and online events designed to engage donors.

In-person nonprofit fundraising ideas

Turn these events and thoughtful activities into a windfall of donations for your charity or nonprofit organization. The community goodwill you build is just a bonus.

Get active

  • 5K walk, run, or skate
    Run laps around other nonprofits with a 5K fundraiser that earns money through entry fees, sponsors, and teams competing to solicit donations. You can even spice it up with relays, roller skates, or themed races complete with costumes.

  • Bowl-a-thon or dance-a-thon
    You won’t strike out with events that encourage all ages and abilities. Ask participants to secure pledges and use the event to promote additional fundraising opportunities. Northwestern University earned more than half a million during their annual dance-a-thon in 2021.

  • Golf tournament
    Take a swing at throwing a golf tournament complete with corporate sponsors. In addition to the main event, you can create mini-courses, hold skills workshops, and sell nonprofit branded merchandise.

  • Football, dodgeball, or basketball tournament
    If golf falls flat, you might score with a basketball or football tournament or even a dodgeball showdown. If you can’t snag a local celebrity athlete or a dunk contest, you can still have fun with flag football, dribble contests, and free-throw standoffs.

Be creative

  • Silent auction
    This is a popular charity standby for a reason. Getting local businesses to donate products or other loot and then soliciting bids is an easy way to make a little extra revenue. Think outside the basket with weekend getaways, classes, and tickets to seasonal events.

  • Talent show
    Encourage the community to strut their stuff and earn some donations into the bargain. This can be fairly low-key with some local musicians or a more industrious endeavor complete with a battle of the bands. Talent shows are also easy to turn virtual. A high school sophomore recently earned $5,000 for charity with her virtual talent show.

  • Art or fashion show and auction
    The beauty of events like these isn’t just in the eye of the beholder. In addition to generating revenue through ticketed sales to attend the show, you can hold an auction and ask local artists or clothing boutiques to donate their entries to the highest bidder.

Offer a taste

  • Bake sale
    Nobody turns down cupcakes. Call down the phone tree and get everyone involved in contributing to raise some serious cash for charity. You can even have chefs from local eateries judge the goods and hand out awards for best in each category.

  • Master chef competition
    Partner with a few local chefs and get this competition cooking for charity. You can focus on challenging ingredients or have themed cooking competitions such as BBQ showdowns or even brewmaster contests.

Game it up

  • Board game tournament
    Gaming nerds assemble — it’s finally your turn. This charity event can be held with prizes for different age groups and a slew of different kinds of games, including cooperative or role-playing games. 

  • Casino night
    Gambling-themed fundraisers are so much fun your donors won’t even mind losing to the house. Go full Vegas with roulette, blackjack, or poker and encourage everyone to wear their high-roller outfit. Just be careful to consult local laws about gambling before you roll the dice on this idea.

Build community

  • Yard sale or clothing drive
    Yard sales and clothing drives pull double duty as a public service by encouraging everyone to clean out their closet. All you need is a parking lot, a little organization, and a small army of volunteers willing to gather, sort, and price.

  • Movie night
    Host community cinema in the park for charity. Sell tickets to screen a popular movie and get local specialty shops to provide some samples as snacks or sell your own treats for a profit.

Online nonprofit fundraising ideas

While you can take most in-person nonprofit fundraising ideas and turn them into virtual events, here are a few tried-and-true solutions for opening donor’s pocketbooks online.

  • T-shirt or product design contest
    Solicit designs for a t-shirt or other apparel or gear for your nonprofit and then sell the winning design on various merchandise. This does double duty as a built-in advertising opportunity for your organization.

  • Product fundraisers
    Every school has tried its hand at product fundraisers because they work. Whether the community buys gourmet popcorn, cookies, magazines, or gift cards, you’ll get a cut of the profits.

  • Virtual classes
    Turn talents among your board members or volunteers into a serious revenue stream.  Offer ballroom dancing, yoga, or even coding. You can pre-tape like Masterclass does or offer a live session for the fundraiser via virtual signups.

  • Video game tournament
    It’s called esports now, and everybody’s doing it. Try your hand at an online gaming tournament either using a common console like Playstation or a popular game like Among Us or even Minecraft.

  • Online raffles
    Giveaways are often part of an in-person event, but online raffles work too. Contact businesses and solicit donations, then capture pics of the goods and post them online. When it’s time for the giveaway, you can stream it live on your social media channels.

  • Trivia nights
    Fortunately, you don’t have to contact some seedy dive bar to host one of these fundraisers. Throw a trivia contest and level up the competition by making sure the questions align with your mission.

This deep dive into nonprofit fundraising ideas proves that raising money for charity doesn’t have to be a chore. Whether you hold in-person or online events or some combination of both, make sure your organization is registered as a nonprofit and follows guidelines for soliciting donations.

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How to amplify your mission

Messaging matters (a lot)! How you market your brand in the crowded nonprofit space makes all the difference in accomplishing your goals. Consistent messaging and strategic partnerships will help you stand out from the rest. Our guide can help you craft the right messaging to amplify your mission and make an impact in your community.

Learn more

Kaz Weida

Kaz Weida is a freelance journalist and photographer who is passionate about crafting content that helps entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes tackle challenges. When not at her keyboard, Kaz can be found in the kitchen indulging in a little craft cocktail inspiration.

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