Guide to Nonprofit Fundraising

Optimize your organization for change

A common mistake among nonprofits is the lack of a single person who oversees the entire “money function” of the organization. It isn’t enough to have an individual who manages only government contracts, or only individual donors – you absolutely must have someone who oversees all cash flows into the organization.

Development director office

To ensure you hire or promote from within the right candidate for the job, you must be able to offer enough of a salary to entice someone to stay and grow the organization. Check competitive rates of not only nonprofit development directors, but also nonprofit CFOs, for-profit CFOs, etc.

It may be painful trying to come up with the money to pay someone to do this job-which is typically lower than executive director or other high-ranking positions in your organization-but it’s worth it.

You’re paying for people who spend 100% of their time focused on money. And in a few years’ time, they should be paying their own salaries with the work they’ve done to increase your organization’s capacity.

Build a business environment that enables development.

Beyond just funding the salary of your rock-star fundraiser, it is important to give this person authority over creating a team and office within your organization. By choosing the right person, you can ensure that they know exactly how many staff they need and what roles they need to hire to perform specific tasks (marketing plans, technology upgrades, cold calling, etc.).

Additionally, you must budget for costs like software, computer upgrades, marketing collateral, association dues, professional development, and so forth.

You want to create an environment that enables development success. In this way, you help retain top talent that can executive on longer-term strategies that have the highest potential for organizational growth.

Bottom line – You want to hire the right person who will help grow your organization. They need to have the keys to the kingdom when it comes to seeing how all money flows in and out. They need the ability to propose and set a budget and to executive on their strategies.

Bonus tip – leverage volunteers.

Use unpaid help to support your efforts in reaching out to people. Especially for organizations with slim staff and budgets, this can be an effective tool. Tap into your alumni pool and other partners/alliances you may have formed in the past.

Volunteers can be especially useful when promoting events, selling tickets, or soliciting sponsorships.

Engage with your board

Your board of trustees ultimately sets the direction and vision for your organization. As a result, we need to spend some significant time making sure everyone is aligned with what we are trying to accomplish with fundraising.

The role of the board typically changes based on the size of the organization-smaller organizations have board members that typically take a more operational and hands-on approach, while larger organizations may have board members more focused on governance issues.

Regardless of the size of your nonprofit, it is critical to make sure everyone understands the importance of philanthropy and can agree on a high-level strategy for accomplishing the mission.

Have an open conversation about what role board members can play in nonprofit fundraising. Beyond agreeing on strategies, this can be an extremely beneficial task in helping to grow and retain donors. For example, a simple thank-you goes a long way. A fundraising study performed by Cygnus found that when donors got a thank-you call from board members within days of making a gift:


  • 93% said they would definitely or probably give again
  • 84% said they would make a larger gift
  • 74% said they would continue giving indefinitely

Find ways to engage donors. Use board members for this purpose. Their clout alone brings great respect to the people who donate to the organization. This should be used to your advantage.

Just as important as engaging board members with donors, is keeping donors engaged in the strategy. Present strategy proposals and work in their feedback. This ensures alignment and sense of purpose with board members.

Keep everyone involved in the budget setting process so they know a strategy goes beyond simple concepts and pipe dreams. The board needs to know that fundraising is staff driven and presenting a simple projection of anticipated costs and revenue with a strategy can go a long way in helping drive change.

Most importantly – realize when you have good board members and do everything you can to retain them. Keep them motivated. Listen to what they say. Their contacts and knowledge go a long way toward helping drive your strategy, so realize what you have while you have it and don’t risk losing good board members to greener pastures.

Measuring and communicating impact

After staff and board considerations, the next big item to prepare for is impact measurement. You need to be able to communicate your story with words and numbers.

Nonprofit fundraising is much more than asking for donations. It includes everything before and after this step… from searching for supporters to expressing gratitude and measuring impact. Measuring impact helps you do two things:

  1. Evaluate fundraising campaign effectiveness
  2. Demonstrate your program’s effectiveness and help tell a story that will attract future funding

Your programs already exist to further your organization’s mission. And for programs that do it well, there should be data that prove it. Make sure to have the systems in place to capture the results of your programs’ efforts. (Note: systems don’t need to be complicated… they can simply be processes used to document results of activities.)

Use your mission to determine a set of outcomes you wish to achieve. Then work backwards to determine the activities you can perform to get there.

For more information check out Whole Whale’s guide on measuring nonprofit impact.

Once you’ve set up your impact measurement processes, find ways to communicate your results on your website. This may come in the form of dashboards, case studies, personal stories, etc. Be sure to consistently update your content to not only keep things fresh, but communicate your continued success.

If a donor visits your site and sees overwhelming evidence of the good things you’re doing, he will be more likely to buy into your cause and believe that his donations are being well spent.


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