2013 was a strong year for fundraising, with charities posting their best increase since before the economy plunged in 2008, according to the 2013 Charitable Giving Report.

Helping to drive that growth, experts say, was a recovering economy and a focus on fundraising fundamentals, including investment in fundraising capacity and attention to cultivating major donors, using data to better understand and segment donors, refining communications, focusing on impact, and making more effective use of technology.

Here are fundraising strategies that proved effective across the sector:

Healthcare – Investing in capacity
Investment in fundraising capacity continued to pay off in 2013 for hospitals, medical centers and long-term care facilities, said Bill McGinly, president and CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP). Organizations that raised the most money invested more in staff, in securing major gifts, and in overall fundraising capacity. “It costs money to bring in money,” McGinly said.

Higher education – Cultivating major gifts
A rebounding economy and long-term investment in major gift donors paid off for colleges and universities in 2013, said John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Schools that have shown fundraising success also are doing a good job in their stewardship of donors, including younger donors, by engaging them in their institutions in ongoing ways, he said.

K-12 – Driven by data
Attention to data is driving fundraising at independent schools, which have seen steady growth in fundraising revenue since 2000, said Donna Orem, chief operating officer at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Schools are using data to better understand donors based on factors such as gender and race, segmenting their base of donors and prospects. And with 10 percent of donors typically accounting for 90 percent of fundraising revenue, she said, schools are focusing most of their efforts in major-gift fundraising.

International affairs – Refining the message
With serious disasters abroad in 2013 eclipsing those in the U.S., international aid organizations showed an enhanced focused on disaster planning and preparation before disasters, said Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. International aid groups also have focused more attention on post-disaster recovery and rebuilding, and turned increasingly to social media to help educate donors about disaster needs, he said.

Faith-based – Focus on fundamentals
For those faith-based-affiliated charities that are increasing revenue, fundraising fundamentals continue to drive that increase, said Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham & Company. Those fundamentals include effective integration of communications using multiple channels. Among them are attention to major donors, the use of direct mail, online communications and the use of telephone communications to support those appeals. In addition, there is attention to major donor development and a focus on the cause and the people affected by the work of the charity.

Arts and culture – Giving for impact
Museums have shifted the focus of their fundraising to better address demand from donors who want to know the difference their gift makes, said Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). With donors receiving a growing number of funding requests from nonprofits that address basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing, Bell said, museums have been doing a much better job talking about the diverse roles they play in their communities.

Public society benefit – Diversification and impact
With growth in fundraising growing only modestly in recent years, United Way has been diversifying its fundraising and focusing on its impact, said Sherrie Brach, executive vice president of investor relations at United Way Worldwide. That strategy has included targeting women, young professionals and major donors, engaging workplace donors as volunteers, focusing on solving community problems, and “productizing” priority community initiatives to generate new investment opportunities for individuals, corporations and foundations, Brach said.

Environment – Connecting with donors
Conservation-oriented environmental groups have focused their fundraising on getting donors more involved in “places that matter,” and showing them the impact of their gifts, said Doug Barker, co-founder and principal at Barker & Scott Consulting. So environmental and conservation groups have been inviting donors and prospective donors to outings and talking to them about “what’s so special about those particular places.” Those outings can include activities for families and children, and can pave the way for additional gifts.

Human services – Communication and planning

Human services organizations, faced with uncertain government funding, are turning increasing attention to communicating more effectively and planning more strategically, said Michael Nilsen, vice president for public affairs at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). That includes rebranding themselves, telling their stories more effectively, assessing the impact of their programs, making better use of digital technology, and turning to donors for advice, he said.

Medical research: Peer-to-peer fundraising
The last five years have seen a flowering of smaller peer-to-peer fundraising programs, said David Hessekiel, president of The Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council. Still, while the number of new peer-to-peer programs has grown, fundraising revenue that big proprietary programs generate has remained flat, he said. Nonprofits considering peer-to-peer programs should set realistic goals and recognize the costs that will be required, Hessekiel said.

Read more sector analysis in the A Closer Look section of the 2013 Charitable Giving Report.

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