Fundraising Fundamentals More Critical Than Ever | npENGAGE

Fundraising Fundamentals More Critical Than Ever

By on Feb 13, 2013


With the economy starting to revive, and donors showing some faith in their ability to give, nonprofits need to focus on fundraising basics.

That means working hard to strengthen their connection with existing donors, connect with prospective donors, and build their organization’s “culture of philanthropy” and fundraising capacity.

Here are some strategies that fundraising professionals say have been working in nine fields of interest.

Higher Education

In four years, North Carolina State University has overhauled its fundraising operation, investing heavily in infrastructure, increasing its advancement services staff, and converting its operating and development software systems, says John Taylor, associate vice chancellor for advancement services.

Its prospect management meetings now focus on strategies and assignments for approaching donors, and its advancement office sets expectations for major gift officers on the size of their portfolio, and on the number of asks and visits they should make.

And the school has been “asking people for money, and in particular for more money,” Taylor says.


Among the over 5,000 members of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, fundraising performance is the direct result of investment in fundraising capacity, including the size of the fundraising staff, says Bill McGinly, president.

Health care organizations that have been effective at fundraising also have provided ongoing training for fundraising staff; hosted activities that get donors to their facilities; engaged their volunteer and executive leaders; heightened contact with donors through more meetings and appeals; and reignited capital campaigns.

Human Services

Fundraising consulting firm L.W. Robbins in Holliston, Mass., has encouraged clients to focus on best practices, specifically by more testing of direct-response marketing strategies to acquire new donors and renew existing donors, says Lynn Edmonds, president.

For 35 Feeding America food banks that are clients, L.W. Robbins has tested variations of several direct-response “control packages” that have proved effective in acquiring new donors.

In one test, most local prospects the food banks were targeting in mailings received a control package that included an envelope with a standard-size letter and a reply slip. A smaller test group received a mini-greeting card customized to local prospects.

The test proved more effect than the control package and now has replaced it, so future testing will try new approaches to see if they prove more effective than the new control package.

Arts and Culture

Museums of all kinds are looking for ways to engage a broader mix of prospective donors, and to engage them in new ways, says Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums.

Increasingly popular strategies include social events for young people to museums; adding younger members to boards; offering opportunities to name positions, programs and facilities; and offering trips and tours.


To help boost its annual fund, the membership and development teams at the National Wildlife Federation have worked more closely with one another and tried to be more strategic and send more mail appeals to people giving over $1,000, says Anne Senft, vice president of philanthropy.

After five years of using mail for those donors, including multiple appeals a year, revenue from them has doubled.

Public and Society Benefit

Two direct marketing programs at Paralyzed Veterans of America focus on premium and non-premium donors, or those who receive a free item with the mail such as calendars or mailing labels, and those who do not, says Cathy Jenkins, director of direct marketing.

Last year, for the first time, the group sent non-premium donors a small rose made of cloth they could return so it could be used to make a wreath for Veterans Day, a strategy that generated a double-digit increase in the response rate.

International Affairs

In the wake of natural disasters, donors increasingly expect international relief charities to show results, says Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

International nonprofits, along with all nonprofits, also have seen an increasing number of gifts  restricted to particular programs or needs.

So nonprofits should make metrics about their operations and impact available to donors, and move beyond a one-size-fits-all case statement to a philanthropic strategy for each of its programs, he says.


In the faith-based market, direct mail, online strategies and Christian radio have proven effective in acquiring donors, says Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company.

Those strategies include testing targeted mailing lists to acquire new givers; using personalized communications through direct mail, telephone and email to convert those givers to donors; and providing “ongoing cultivation and retention, using direct mail and newsletters to keep a donor engaged, inspired and supporting the organization,” he says.

K-12 Education

Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Mass., last fall shortened the parent portion of its annual fund campaign in a new parent-led effort that aimed to generate 100 percent parent participation in 100 days, and raise $100,000 in challenge funding as an incentive, says Kimberly Kubik, director of advancement.

The challenge grant gave volunteer parent fundraisers “license” to talk about the importance of annual giving, she says. And because it met its parent goal, the school now can focus the remainder of the school year on alumni giving.

Development offices “have to be more open to engaging and partnering with dedicated volunteers,” Kubik says.


By Todd Cohen, founder of Philanthropy North Carolina, providing news, writing and advisory services for nonprofits.








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