Cultivating Love for Nonprofit Fundraising

On February 14, 2011,  the average American adult spent $116.21 on Valentine’s Day merchandise, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. The total estimation predicted for holiday spending was $15.7 billion. I’m not trying to anger Cupid, but imagine if that money was donated to charity instead of spent on the indulgences of lovers around the country.

Fundraising is the core of nonprofit work. It could be argued that programming is the priority, but without funding, programs are dead in the water. So which comes first: visions that require funding or a donation to fund a visionary program? Sounds like the age-old contemplation about the chicken or the egg.  Both situations occur in the nonprofit world, so what really matters is that money comes into the organization at some point, any point, continuously at all points.

This chart from Giving USA displays a breakdown of where funding for nonprofits comes from. As you can see, most donations are from individuals. In an analysis of this breakdown by Cramer & Associates, bequests are defined as gifts from “nonliving individuals” and half of all foundations are individual or family-based. Therefore, combining these categories shows that 89.5% of contributions are from individuals. WOW. It’s true: Lots of little donations add up, and individual contribution slices make almost a whole $303.75 billion pie.

I interpret this data to mean that nonprofits should focus fundraising campaigns on the individual – with a personal, human approach. This means making emotional connections, pulling heartstrings, telling stories, relating potential donors to the situation, and helping them identify with the cause.

Many nonprofits capitalized on Valentine’s Day by asking donors to give love (in monetary form). Reframing the day as “Generosity Day,” inspired by Sasha Dichter’s Generosity Experiment, nonprofit organizations like Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy asked people to spend their money on “gifts that keep giving” instead of a bouquet of roses that die in one week.

Beth Kanter’s blog highlights individuals’ and organizations’ use of social media and creative twists on Valentine’s Day to romance their publics, raise awareness and appreciation, or encourage charitable giving. This technique was used in a nonprofit dear to  my heart, the American Cancer Society. I am involved in my university’s Relay For Life, and a fellow committee member posted this as her Facebook status yesterday with a link to ACS’s charitable contribution page:

“An estimated $18.6 Billion will be spent on this Valentine’s Day. Single? Donate what you would’ve spent on a date to The American Cancer Society.
A $5 Valentine card could provide an hour of toll-free access to the National Cancer Information Center. 1.800.227.2345
A $15 box of chocolates is equal to 50 test tubes needed by scientists….
A $100 bouquet of roses could provide a wig for a patient to boost morale.”

Not only are the statistics eye-opening, but the wording also caught my attention and made me feel connected to the cause. A comment also said, “Save the life of someone’s significant other!” I thought, “Yes, I’m single, so I should contribute to this cause and help save someone from cancer, instead of indulging in chocolate.”

Messages such as these inform the public, create awareness of an organization and its cause, establish a personal connection, and deliver both the call to action as well as how to act. A+ for message effectiveness (unlike the bra color or symbolic drink statuses plaguing Facebook with empty messages that I blogged about in my previous post).

Next time I think about buying myself a bouquet of flowers, maybe I’ll consider what societal good I could contribute my $10 to instead. What cause would you donate $10 to instead of buying yourself a few lattes?

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Shimelle Laine

One Comment to “Cultivating Love for Nonprofit Fundraising”

  1. Hi, Lindsey,

    This post was thought provoking. Though I do not spend hundreds of dollars on Valentine’s Day, I could contribute to a cause and skip the chocolates. You ask what would make people donate $10 instead of buying a few lattes and I would happily donate to a cause or charity if I believe in its work. The post that your friend shared on Facebook would have triggered my interest and would have made me think twice. I do believe that nonprofit organizations can benefit from launching fundraising campaigns during holidays because people seem more willing to donate then.

    Thank you for this post, Lindsey

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