If you’re a small or community-based not-for-profit, designing and launching a fundraising campaign can seem like a shot in the dark – and the chances are that you’ll be doing a lot of the work yourself instead of hiring a professional agency to conduct research, message development and concept-testing.

We’ve helped design, refine and evaluate fundraising campaigns for causes ranging from the very small to quite large, and in this article we’ve distilled some of the key things we’ve learned.

We hope you find them helpful. Happy fundraising!

1. Get to know your target audience

Research your target audience, their sympathies, tastes and preferences for giving – monthly sponsorship or one-off giving? Cash or time? Do your supporters include retirees, young families or students? Depending on your audience’s composition, you can expect marked differences in their profiles and appetites for methods of support (e.g. event-based as opposed to social media).

Our research for a large social welfare organisation showed that while older age-groups are more likely to be regular donors, younger age-groups welcome opportunities to give as and when they can, or to fundraise through the workplace.

This is the time to revisit previous campaigns and ask, what worked? Before launching your campaign, running a couple of focus groups to test message ideas and visuals can be invaluable. People don’t always ‘read’ things the way you expect; an image that you’re confident will evoke a sympathetic response might draw quite another reaction when it’s put in front of a fresh audience if it’s seen as tired, cheesy or too hard-hitting.

Bear in mind, no single message is likely to capture and convert your whole audience.

2. What connects your supporters to your cause?

This is a key question. Our research has demonstrated that the single factor that most commonly inspires initial support is a sense of personal connection to a cause. This might be something directly experienced – for example, a family member helped by a cancer support charity – or observed, say seeing the impact of a local foodbank. Giving that stems from a personal connection can mature into long-term support, so understanding and fostering this initial connection is worthwhile.

If the personal connection is unlikely to be the primary link between your supporters and your work – for example, if your organisation’s work is overseas – then giving human dimensions to the issue, and your initiatives, using individual case-studies or crafted stories can be an effective proxy (see below).

Include the workplace

For time-poor professionals, supporting your cause in a way that can be integrated into the working day can be highly appealing. Using your existing network of active supporters as ambassadors, social, and especially food-related, events are good for creating a connection, while generating goodwill and extending your reach among a ready pool of potential donors. Research has shown that peer-to-peer appeals in the workplace are highly influential in motivating individuals to donate or volunteer, especially among younger people.

3. Use your (lack of) size to your advantage

Our research has consistently shown that donors really care about waste, and what they consider excessive overheads – especially in larger or multi-national charities. Here is where being a small, community-led organisation can offer you an advantage – but it’s easy to overlook. If you purposely avoid renting office space to minimise costs, or if all your administrative and fundraising staff are volunteers, say so. It’s likely to work in your favour.

Large organisations with a track-record and brand identity may have the advantage of profile, but with that scale often comes risk-aversion. As a smaller organisation, your greater flexibility to experiment, adopt new technologies and fundraising tactics, without the bureaucratic machine slowing you down, can give you an edge.

4. Make the case for giving

Yes, an emotional component to giving is often essential, and can be a springboard, but by and large, people prefer to be informed about why they should give, rather than manipulated.

A good way to approach this is to re-frame giving as an investment in an issue that matters to them. Showing how you plan to maximise the return becomes integral to your campaign.

Consider how your campaign can trigger empathy without relying solely on it. A message that explains the efficacy of giving is more inspiring than one that simply spells out the need.

For example, what difference does your $10 make? You can safely assume that your audience knows there’s a need; what they want to know is how your organisation is equipped to meet it.

  • A clear explanation of how donations will be used is rated as a priority by 80% of charity supporters. The need to know how funds are spent is a greater concern for older donors.
  • Assigning a direct purpose to a donation is considered both motivating and confidence-building, e.g. your donation will help buy new classroom furniture.

5. Think about scale and talk about impact

Our research suggests that people are more motivated to support campaigns that they think have a chance of solving an identified problem than campaigns that face staggering odds. Clearly, this can be problematic because it suggests less appetite for endemic or large-scale disadvantage – but there are ways around it.

If your organisation works to alleviate a severe, globally recognised problem, say, out-of-school children (an estimated 64 million primary-aged children worldwide), pitching your organisation’s achievements against the magnitude of the problem might be counter-productive: you’re likely to end up looking dwarfed by the issue.  For potential donors, this can be disempowering.

Instead of foregrounding the global problem, consider emphasising the work that you do and how this changes lives. Let’s say you operate a sponsorship scheme that provides schooling for children in rural Bangladesh: how many children has your organisation enabled to go to school? How many families have a more prosperous outlook? Perhaps find other ways to quantify the effects, the benefits or the wider impact: one hundred children in school for one year = 20 000 days in the classroom!

6. How will their donation help?

How a charity intends to address or solve an identified problem requires persuasive demonstration, i.e. showing how a benefit is realised. A common question among charity supporters in focus groups is, “How does just giving money help?”

Demonstrating the impact of a single, small donation is a powerful way of winning potential supporters.  Make this a tangible benefit – or a readily understood concept – and you’re more likely to keep their attention. For example, ‘a year’s worth of text-books’, or ‘a new pair of school shoes’ has more impact than ‘helps towards schooling’.

7. Tell your audience a (true) story

If your supporter has no immediate point of connection to your cause, a well-chosen story can act as that connector, humanising a problem instead of expressing it in stark, over-arching statistics.  Stories are also quick to engage and keep our attention. Successful blog pieces, for example, are often highly skewed toward story-telling; research has found readers are three times more likely to keep reading a piece that begins with a story. Again, keep it well-crafted and succinct, focusing on its testimonial quality.

Case-studies can be a dynamic and economical way of presenting both problem and solution, showing your organisation in action, making a difference to real lives or communities. Well-chosen statistics integrated into the story are worth harnessing for their instant impact and memorability. Our research has demonstrated donors’ appetite for fact-based messages, either to underpin a story, or as a standalone message.

Resist the temptation to overload the reader with epic descriptions of suffering, however real; you risk leaving them with a sense of powerlessness before they reach the call to action. Your goal is to keep the reader motivated and involved, to see how supporting your cause leads to significant change. It may be a pathway into employment, a school place, an abandoned dog adopted; an outcome your reader would want to contribute to. You don’t have to claim that everybody lived happily ever after.

8. Include a call to action

Let your audience know what they can do right now, in clear and simple terms, to show their support for your cause. It might be signing up for a newsletter, pledging a monthly or one-off donation, or attending an event. Without it, they’re left fired up with nowhere to go.  If ‘Donate Now’ isn’t the right option (though presumably you’ll want to include it), the call to action can be varied: ‘Tell me more’ or ‘I’d like to attend’.

9. Did it work – and how well?

Build monitoring and evaluation into your campaign.  Tracking the outcomes, besides return on investment, needn’t be complicated or hugely time-consuming and are well worth capturing. How has your e-mail membership list grown? How much did the video increase traffic on your website? What did supporters have to say about what they liked about your campaign?

It’s worth keeping track too of the total input, in terms of hours spent, even if the time and work are pro bono, or for example you’re not charged hire for your event’s venue.  Low-cost fundraising campaigns still draw on these resources and keeping an estimate of real cost (you can ascribe a nominal cost to hours if it helps) will give you a more accurate idea of ROI.  For future campaigns you might be considering hiring professional help and a benchmark of previous costs will help determine the value of this – otherwise it would be tempting to think it all happened for free.

Useful? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch at camilla@edeta.com.au