The secret: if you want money, you have to ask for it.
Sounds obvious? That may be so, but it is something which many non-profits and NGOs fail to do effectively. Many small organisations operate under the assumption that if they do good work, and achieve good results, people will notice.
This, in essence, is a good approach. Organisations should be focussing on building effective, accountable projects which respond to community needs. They certainly shouldn’t be designing projects based on what they think will attract the most funding. (Sadly, this seems to be something of an emerging trend, particularly for larger INGOs, to develop programs and projects to suit funding opportunities rather than in response to need, in the context of ever more competitive and narrow funding opportunities.)
However, once you have set up your effective, community-driven and accountable programs, how to you attract funding for them? Will people come to you and give you money to support your excellent work? Actually, occasionally yes this happens. But not that often.
Fundraisers need to understand that implying or suggesting isn’t the same as asking. Many organisations shy away from overtly asking, preferring to promote their projects and hope that once people learn of the good work they are doing, they will decide to donate. In a limited number of cases, this can happen. In some cases stakeholders will come to you with donations, refer others to you, or point you in the way of funding opportunities. More broadly, this kind of publicity is an important part of an organisation’s communications and fundraising strategy in order to build awareness and grow relationships with stakeholders (that is: potential sources of money).
But eventually, at some point, you generally need to ask for a donation. The organisations which are the most successful in fundraising with individual donors are those which have a solid communications strategy, build relationships with a large number of supporters and then ask them for money.
It is common for small non-profits to hold back on aggressively pursuing donations and support – maybe because a lack of skills, resources or understanding of how donor psychology works. It can sometimes be because in their culture it is not appropriate to be pushy or communicate too directly. Unfortunately there is a sea of non-profits, NGOs and projects out there all competing for attention, and others are willing and able to push hard. Ultimately, their success at receiving donations speaks for itself.
More than this, you have to ask hard. I have been told that the average donor is asked three times by the same source before they make their first donation (although I cannot find any sources to back this up). Getting them over that first hurdle is critical – once they have made their first donation donors are likely to donate again (if you ask them) – and are likely to donate in increasing amounts.
So what does all this mean in practice? Check out our free Element and Strategies for Fundraising Guide designed for small grass-roots NGOs for more on how to build a successful fundraising strategy.