The Ultimate Guide to Creating Effective Fundraising Ideas

All charitable nonprofit organizations have one thing in common: they rely on fundraising efforts. In our technology-savvy world, it is more important than ever to use effective nonprofit marketing for your organization to attract donors and raise funds for your cause. At UncommonGood, we streamline your marketing to create a seamless experience for fundraising efforts and drive meaningful impact for your organization. 

When you’re considering how to best articulate your mission and values, who to reach out to for support, and how to strengthen donor retention, some strategies work better than others. And while the industry is ever-changing, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as you might think. 

Here are some modern fundraising ideas that are sure to increase your intake and help you accomplish all the social good your organization is capable of:

Make It Personal

No matter your campaign or cause, a critical factor in effective nonprofit marketing is knowing who your donors are and how to best engage with them. Harvard doctoral student Ashley Whillans researched the psychological factors that impact charitable giving and coined a simple term to remember how to tailor organizational fundraising ideas to target audiences. She calls it DIME: Donation Impact, Motivation, and Effort. Personalizing your campaigns — the way you tell your organization’s story, the way you convey how donations will drive change — will help audiences connect with and donate more to your cause. 


The More Specific, the Better

The key to donation impact is being as specific as you can. Whillans cited a study where participants were offered a chance to donate to an organization using specific vs. general calls to action.

Organization A was particular about where the money would be directed (ex. providing clean water to a village in Africa), while Organization B used broader messaging about how they would meet a range of needs with their money for people all over the world. When presented with Organization A’s specific goal, people “donated nearly twice as much compared to participants who read the general information.”

So it follows: donors must want — and may need — to understand tangibly how their money will be spent in order to place consistent trust and enthusiasm in supporting a cause.

Have more than one specific area you need donations for? No problem. Offer up options for your donors to choose from to cultivate a sense of agency. Many international humanitarian organizations create catalogs for donors to choose what and how they want to “gift.” Donors are not ‘just’ giving $10. They’re buying a chicken for a farmer. And psychologically, people will give more if you offer that feeling of tangible giving over simply asking for cold, hard cash.

Offer Donor Recognition

Similarly, people also tended to give more to organizations that offered a personalized recognition for each donation. For example, many blood drive organizations text donors when their blood is used to save a life. In what could be a sea of strangers – in hospitals, across cities, online – people just want to know that their action matters, and that they’re making a difference on a tangible level. When done right, the impact of personalized communications to donors can act as a motivator for future gifts and consistent involvement. 

Many organizations use perks to entice donors, offering things like stickers, magnets, and other merchandise as a ‘thank you.’ Whillans conducted her own study in 2014, surveying university donors on what entices them to give and what they appreciated as contributors. She found that the donors who gifted the most specifically requested personalized ‘thank you’ messages, even more than “tax incentives or a general update or communication from the charity.” The research confirms that people just want to feel appreciated, and when they do, will tend to donate more as a result.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make the Donor Put In Effort

Psychologically, donors will actually give more if they have to endure some kind of physical discomfort. This scientific phenomenon is called “Martyrdom Syndrome.”  Ever experienced a “polar plunge” or a 5K run for charities? Scientific studies have found that when given the option between a more accessible charitable event (such as a picnic) versus a more intense, physical fundraising event (such as a race or athletic competition), people often opt to donate more to the event that cost the donor the most effort. 

Here’s an even more interesting phenomenon: it doesn’t matter if the donor is running a charity race themselves or simply sitting on the sidelines watching someone else log the miles — the environment and type of event certainly impacts what a donor sees as worth their money and support.

So, the next time you sit down for your nonprofit marketing meeting to brainstorm fundraising ideas, don’t shy away from ones that rely on your donors breaking a sweat. And while you’re brainstorming, think about all the ways in which you could organize fundraising events and spread the word to audiences.

Streamline Your Messaging

While understanding your donor audiences is essential for any successful nonprofit marketing campaign, it can’t prove truly effective unless you clarify all messaging to them.

It is important to choose specific messaging strategies and stick with them rather than incorporating multiple marketing languages into your organization’s communications. What is the one thing you want donors to walk away knowing about your nonprofit? How will a donation to your org produce social good?

Studies have shown that mixing messaging tactics to include appeals that are both self-focused (personal gain) and other-focused (charitable gain) just doesn’t work. When combined with the same message, donors gave less. But when introduced to campaigns with only one focus in the language, with a clear goal and tone, they gave more. 

In situations like these, it’s an excellent nonprofit marketing practice to curate an organized list of current and future donors. Different people respond to messages in different ways, and keeping track of who reacted more to what messaging can be key in identifying future marketing language and securing further donations.

Another psychological fundraising phenomenon is the “empathy gap,” which has proven that men actually donate more when faced with self-focused messaging, and women donate more when presented with other-focused messaging. In this case, if you were able to organize your mailing list accordingly, you could do an A/B campaign where the specifically focused language for the same fundraising effort went out separately to men vs. women donors. 

It’s not just a tactic to identify different behavior between women and men, either. Particularly affluent donors also respond to marketing language differently than middle-class donors, who are not prepared to donate large sums at a time. So, curating an email list for your campaign based on past donation amounts and tailoring the language for those two audiences would also prove an effective strategy for success. 

Be Open to Unique, Modern Fundraising Ideas

A lot has changed in recent years, especially with the pandemic increasing everyone’s fluency with the internet, virtual forms of communication, and more. Leverage the internet to reach your broader audience and increase donations through modern online fundraising ideas. Here are some of our favorites:

Virtual Events

As quarantining during COVID-19 proved, you can likely host any kind of event on the internet and enjoy it. Cooking classes, wine tastings, magic shows, entire symphony performances, or full-on athletic 5Ks from your living room treadmill — people showed up to connect with others all over the world.

Take advantage of this tool and the human need to connect by launching a fundraising event online. The added bonus is significantly less overhead cost than in-person events, and you don’t have to worry about reaching capacity and turning away potential donors at the door.

Ad Campaigns and Fundraising on Google and Facebook

It may seem like an obvious solution, but never underestimate the power of a good clickable ad. Not only has Facebook charity tools raised over $2 billion since its launch three years ago, but studies also show that the majority of people prefer to give online and that a large percentage are inspired to give through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And fundraising on the internet is easier than ever. Google now offers a special grant just for nonprofits that totals about $10,000 a month toward ads on their platform and towards producing impact for their cause overall. 

Social Media Campaigns 

Remember the viral ALS campaign from 2014, where people donated money while pouring buckets of ice on their heads? This is a prime example of how strategic nonprofit marketing via social media can have a considerable impact at a low cost.

In this first-of-its-kind example, the ALS Association raised $115 million through the “Bucket Challenge,” which is a stark increase compared to the donations they received the year before. Not only did their annual contributions increase from $19.4 million, but they also added over 739,000 new donors to their database that year. Use case studies like these as food for thought for your own causes.

Utilize social media to raise awareness, strengthen your image, and curate your community. Start hashtags and brainstorm unique ways to get everyone to unite – even if it’s through something as simple as an ice bucket. 

Special Giving Days/ Urgency Campaigns

Everyone likes a special holiday, even the arbitrary made-up ones (Example: Black Friday is the largest shopping day of the year). And while you may be familiar with Giving Tuesday, organizations have taken this concept and ran with it in their own personalized way to garner the most donations and the most impact on their missions.

Limited-time fundraisers and urgency campaigns can generate a lot of buzz because donors don’t want to miss out, and they enjoy the feeling of being a part of a larger community all coming together for a joint goal. North Texas even has its own giving day.

In 2019, the North Texas community raised $50 million for local charities in a single day. But this strategy also works on a smaller scale with nonprofit marketing teams. For example, NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit that provides tools and community to writers looking to finish their novels, hosts online writing parties in November called “Double Up Donation Days.” Writers donate to receive merch on a specific weekend and raise most of the nonprofit’s funds for the year at the same time. In 2020, their goal was $150,000 in 72 hours; their donors ended up giving $266,617 just by the end of the weekend! 

Online Auctions/Sweepstakes

This tried and true method has stood the test of time in terms of fundraising ideas. And now, it’s getting revitalized thanks to the online world. There are so many great fundraising tools out there to help coordinate and organize an event or contest, and the audiences on social media show up time and time again.

Whether you used this fundraising tactic in the past or not, it’s time to add it to your arsenal and give it a unique spin. 

Effective Fundraising is Only A Click Away

The psychology of giving makes it clear: leveraging specific tactics and tools in your nonprofit marketing can deliver incredible results and ultimately build a more substantial donor base. New and improved fundraising efforts are popping up every day, and yielding some incredible results. 

UncommonGood presents the opportunity for smaller organizations to receive the same kind of support and resources larger nonprofits use. Any organization can make a significant impact, no matter its size. Partly thanks to the internet and social media, it’s now easier than ever to reach more people at lightning speed, and even curate your messaging to appeal to them on a personal, human level.

Take the guesswork out of your strategy and invest in the support you deserve to see the return you envision. Every time you grow your community, you strengthen your ability to advocate for your cause. 

Doing good has never been so easy, especially with UncommonGood on your side.

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