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7 Golden Rules for Nonprofit Fundraising Success Guerrilla marketing tactics that can take the guesswork out of raising money

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Guerrillas are not taken by surprise with the winds of financial change; they know they can become a fundraising force of nature because they understand the rules of fundraising success and apply them in their development outreach. Just as there are rules in nature that can be used to predict the weather, there are rules in marketing that can take the guesswork out of fundraising. Here are the guerrilla golden rules of fundraising success.

1. Know Your Donors : The urgent need for your nonprofit is to know your donors as well as you possibly can. Having a good knowledge of your donors and their contributing habits is key to persuading them to donate their money. You'll become a master communicator by listening (a guerrilla trait), and scratching below the surface.

2. Educate Your Donors : Guerrillas know the meaning of the adage "What people are not up on, they are down on." They make sure they educate their supporters, because an educated donor is a happy donor.

Education also builds trust and assures your supporters that all is on course. They trust you because you stay in touch with them and let them know what their donations have done. (People want to know they are helping to bring about a positive change. They may generously donate money, or volunteer their time, but deep down their prime interests is in seeing what impact they can make.) You send brochures with colorful pictures and testimonials of how your organization changes lives. You reach out to them and keep the lines of communication open--not always asking for help, but showing the results of their support. Guerrillas work hard to stay in touch with donors because they know the result of their hard work is a base of supporters who give joyfully.

3. Help Donors Find Personal Fulfillment : People want to make a difference. They are seeking personal fulfillment through supporting your cause. When your organization can find a way to help people solve their problem of finding fulfillment though charity work, they will be more willing to jump on board to help your cause. The hard part for you is coming up with a creative way to show the need for donations in a way that is also compelling to the perceived needs of the donor.

4. Build Trust in Donor Relationships: Can there be honesty in marketing? Guerrillas know the answer to that question is yes. But do the people you are asking to donate believe it? A recent national poll showed that a whopping 53 percent of Americans say they sense a "feeling of deception" about marketing. This distrust of marketing is also transferred to the outreach marketing conducted by nonprofits. Guerrillas are honest in all their marketing because they know that even if their marketing is 99 percent honest and 1 percent dishonest, that 1 percent will stand out in the minds of their target audience.

Examine every facet of your marketing closely. Is every sentence completely honest? Does the truth ring out from every word? Is your organization's theme truly believable, or does it mimic the hyped tone other organizations use in their marketing? Can people see evidence of what you have done? Is there fruit in your marketing life? What about your visuals? Are they fake-looking? Are the models smiling in situations where people don't ordinarily smile? Be careful not to set off the disbelief alarms.

5. Respect Your Donors: Most nonprofits say they care about their donors, but guerrilla marketers prove they care. Your marketing can say all the right words and tell donors how important they are to you, but unless you take concrete steps beyond those words, they won't believe you.

For example, show your donors and prospects that you sincerely care by preparing a written document outlining the principles of your service from the top of the company down.

6. Focus on Current Supporters: Did you know it costs five times as much to raise a donation from a new donor than from an existing one? That's why it is so important to keep in touch with your current donors.

You already have a list of your donors. Go back to it often to update contact and donation information, and keep communicating with them so when it's time to give, it will be easy for you to ask. Do this with letters, postcards, e-mail, newsletters, phone calls, surveys and, if you can, at trade shows and fundraising events.

One other way to focus on current supporters is with a focus group of your most involved donors, though you could certainly try it with those who give the minimum, as well.

7. Make Giving Fun: Your guerrilla marketing is outlined by a serious and specific marketing strategy, but that doesn't mean you can't have a little fun while raising money. It's no secret that your organization has to do something different to get the attention of donors. Nothing gets people's attention better than a little fun!

Here are a few examples of ideas that have worked with various organizations and individuals to increase their donations:

  • Auctions: Gather people to bid on art, jewelry, cars, antiques, baskets of food--almost anything. Have an old-fashioned down-home affair, or break out the black ties and tails. People love going to auctions, and companies love giving away merchandise and services to sell at auctions because they also get the benefit of doing a little fusion marketing with your organization.
  • Long-Distance Marathons: You can add "A-Thon" to just about any event and make it more fun and raise funds. Serious athletes and amateurs alike love raising support from sponsors in honor of your cause. Marathons also make excellent public relations events.
  • Pledge Drives: Have a special event where people can sign up to support your organization. Host a formal dinner at a nice hotel and make the case for your organization. Or send people out with saddle bags asking potential donors to pledge to give. One side of the bag has blank donor cards, and the other side will fill up with completed pledge cards in no time.
  • Questions for a Buck: One company raised money by having their boss charge donations for each question asked of him. Since he was constantly being asked questions, this made perfect sense. Word spread throughout the company about what he was doing, and everyone continued asking questions and paying for it.

You don't want the cornerstone of your donations to hinge on fun events, but it certainly adds flavor and spice while attracting donations. Make sure you include these ideas in your marketing plan and calendar. You can also evaluate and analyze them later for their effectiveness.

Follow these golden rules to engage in marketing that will amaze the public and motivate your donors.

This article has been excerpted and condensed from Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits by Jay Conrad Levinson, Chris Forbes and Frank Adkins, available from

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