Most small nonprofits dream of those five- or even six-figure contributions from corporate sponsors. Yet in reality, the vast majority (90 percent) of the billion-plus dollars raised each year from fundraising campaigns stems from individual contributions. Receiving gifts of varying sizes from individuals and maintaining relationships with those individuals form the foundation of successful fundraising. One of your goals, besides raising money, should be building a base of donors for future fundraising efforts. An auction that drew 125 people and generated a modest $4,000 may not seem worth all the hard work that went into the planning and staging. However, you now have 125 names to send thank-you notes to and solicit for your next fundraising venture. If you see to it that they have a good time, they will be the first people to attend next year, and you can throw in entertainment to make their evening even better and draw an additional 125 people!
Fundraising efforts generally grow over time. Whether you are working for a nonprofit group or pulling together community fundraising drives, you will be able to build on your initial efforts through your database. Those attending your June event should receive a direct mail letter in November letting them know about your upcoming March fundraising drive. The small activities that raise funds for a school when your child enters kindergarten may have grown into big fundraisers by the time she is in sixth grade. Keep the ball rolling by maintaining contact with individual contributors, no matter how small their donations may be. Never say, “That person gave only [x amount].” Each little contribution adds up.
It is critical to nurture relationships with existing supporters by letting them know how their efforts are helping your cause. To do so, record the positive aspects of your fundraiser and then spread the good news to your base. This will serve as a major selling point when soliciting people next year.
What causes do households support? A 2007 Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University study found that religious charities top the list. Additional nonprofits that generate support include those providing the basic needs of others, those with combined purposes (such as United Way, which redistributes funds to a variety of recipients), health causes, and relief efforts.
Studies show income plays a big role in how people contribute. While those with high income give more frequently, they tend to give a lower percentage of their incomes than those who are less affluent. At the same time, in tough economic times, contributors often scale down donations when bracing for downsizing and other financial worries.
A study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found nearly three out of every ten households alternate giving and not giving every year. Because a good percentage of households do not make the same kinds of contributions year-to-year, you'll want to grow your roster of supporters while also maintaining relations with an established base of supporters.