11 Nonprofit Fundraising Mistakes to Avoid

From storytelling to data analytics, successful fundraising is both art and science. A lot of hard work and commitment are required to be successful! Fundraising is a challenging process, so it’s easy to make mistakes along the way. Here are the top eleven most common fundraising mistakes to avoid and what you should do to avoid them.

12 minutes read
11 Nonprofit Fundraising Mistakes to Avoid

Nonprofit Fundraising MistakesVirtually every nonprofit depends to some extent on its donors. However, getting people to donate money to your cause isn’t always easy. It requires connecting with your donors and making sure they understand the impact of their donations, among other things.

It’s easy to make mistakes on your fundraising journey, whether you’re new to the game or a seasoned pro. Don’t worry – we have you covered with a list of the eleven most common fundraising mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Not Building Relationships With Your Donors

Nonprofit Fundraising Mistakes

Fundraising is first and foremost about building relationships. Nurture the relationship with your donors by staying in touch with them, thanking them for the contribution they made to the success of your organization. Get in touch with first-time donors immediately after their first contribution. To make this process as efficient and as smooth as possible, schedule some donor “thank you” phone calls into your team’s calendar every week or organize a thank-a-thon, an office “donor calling” event when you can spend the whole day calling donors to thank them. Furthermore, use social media to build authentic connections with your donors by sharing stories and inviting people to be part of them.

The first step to creating a relationship with your donors is to have a donor management plan. Ensure you’re collecting information on your donation form and have a system where the data is being stored. You should be able to add notes to your donor records, know when an important donor moment happens like their first giving anniversary or when they upgrade/cancel their donation plans. Your system should integrate with utility, tracking, and communication tools for you to better manage your donors. Even better, have a moves management plan to grow your donor relationships through various stages. It helps you have a dedicated plan for cultivating such relationships. This blog will give you a better insight into moves management for your donors.

Donorbox offers its nonprofit users a powerful donor management tool. It helps them collect and store donor data, add communication notes, segment the data as per different filters for a personalized approach, integrate with community tools, Salesforce NPSP, and more, and also keep track of important moments like giving anniversary, first time giving, upgrading/cancellation of recurring plans. Your donors, in turn, receive login details to a dedicated donor portal where they can manage their donation plans, get access to donation receipts, and use QuickDonate to repeat a donation on the go – all from their mobile devices.

Know everything about donor relationship management and much more in this video by Donorbox –

2. Failing to Measure Social Impact

The University of Michigan defined social impact as “a significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge. Having a social impact is the result of a deliberate set of activities.”

Nonprofits need to develop the ability to know whether they’re making a difference. They need to know how to invest time and resources wisely so that they can do better over time. A lot of nonprofits dismiss the importance of impact measurement, or if they don’t know, they don’t know how to go about it.

There are many reasons why nonprofits should invest in measuring impact: gathering data and stories to be used in marketing and communications, getting quantitative and qualitative inputs and feedback for programs and activities, and sharing information with other nonprofits and donors.

Above all, measuring impact is essential to attracting and retaining donors. New donors want to see whether they will be donating to a reputable and effective organization. Long-term donors want to keep giving to a transparent organization that’s accountable to its donors.

The most common approach to thinking about and measuring social impact is the Theory of Change. Theory of Change looks at why and how can the desired change happens in a particular context. It sets out to connect what a nonprofit/program does (the activities) and its desired goals (the impact). For more on how to start measuring your social impact, head over to our crash course on social impact.

Pro tip: Make it a point to highlight your impact on the website.  It helps your visitors or potential donors go through the elaborated organizational impact and make a choice as to how much to give or which program to make a donation to for increased impact. For example, Muso does it perfectly. You should have a look at their Global Impact page and have a better understanding of what we’re talking about.

fundraising mistakes

3. Not Choosing an All-in-One Online Fundraising System

You might have an excellent website, a work-of-art communication and fundraising plan that attracts thousands to your website, but if your online donation system doesn’t work or is outdated – you might be unwillingly and unnecessarily alienating donors and missing out on large donations.

Invest in not just good but an all-in-one online fundraising solution. It should definitely help you with the basics of fundraising such as creating a donation form and a donation page, storing donor information, and sending automated receipts. But that is not enough these days. You, as a nonprofit, need to have access to advanced tools like crowdfunding, text-to-give, peer-to-peer fundraising, membership campaigns, event ticketing forms, recurring donation forms, and more. If you want to significantly improve your fundraising efforts and strategies, a system like this is essential. But at the same time, you need to look for affordability. It shouldn’t so happen that more than half the money you’re raising is going into maintaining an efficient tool.

Donorbox is everything you need to get started with fundraising and grow your nonprofit with advanced features at affordable pricing. It takes no documentation to sign up as an organization, just basic details. You can get started with your first fundraising campaign in just minutes. No signup cost or monthly packages are involved. Know more about our features and pricing.

Some of the add-ons that you need to consider while choosing an online fundraising tool for you are:

  • Multiple recurring giving intervals;
  • A donor portal to let donors manage their own donation plans and repeat a donation swiftly on the go;
  • Suggested donation amounts on the donation form;
  • Integrated employer donation matching;
  • Ability to add donation designation;
  • Optimization for desktop computers, mobile phones, and tablets;
  • The ability for you to add additional questions on the form;
  • Goal thermometer to encourage more donations;
  • A donor wall to appreciate donors;
  • Multiple currencies on the donation form
  • Automated donation receipts and year-end tax receipts
  • Integration with utility and communication tools.

fundraising mistakes

4. Forgetting to Answer The “Why?”

One of the most common mistakes nonprofits make is soliciting donations without answering the “why?” question. Seek to always clearly state the purpose of the ask. What will the donation help with? Where does the money go? How is it going to make a difference? Be as specific as possible.

Before launching a fundraising campaign, know exactly how that money is going to be spent. Take these two sample fundraising appeals:

“Please donate $10 to help prevent violence against women in Africa.”

“Your donation of $10 will equip 1 health care worker to respond to domestic or sexual violence calls in Kenya for one day. Empowerment counseling interventions help prevent or reduce violence against women.”

Although both appeals ask for the same amount of money to create the same result, the second one has a much clearer pull to it. The second one clearly states a plan of action with a resulting outcome – the impact is visible.

The more your donors know about the impact of their donation, the more likely they are to become (and stay) donors. Check the below fundraising page and suggested donation amounts on the donation form. They are concise yet sufficient to let potential donors know how a particular amount can be helpful.

fundraising mistakes

5. Not Involving Supporters in Fundraising

Fundraising is indeed about raising money but it is much more than that. Your nonprofit cannot find success unless you’re involving your best supporters in the process. It not only increases engagement but also gives them a chance (that they might be looking for, you never know!) to help your mission by raising extra funds. Peer-to-peer fundraising is the ideal way to make this happen. You should invite your most loyal donors, best volunteers, friends, family, and board members to create their own fundraising pages online. Make the process simple and quick. They should get set up in minutes. And then help them with images, videos, and updates to run their own fundraising campaigns independently for a period of time.

Pro tip: Try to invite those who have a good online following and a huge network. They can help you by boosting outreach, getting new donors, and raising a lot of funds. You will benefit the most by helping them turn advocates for your cause.

As mentioned before, try and find a simple-to-set-up peer-to-peer fundraising system for this purpose. It should guide your fundraisers on the tool to customize their pages and get started quickly. Donorbox lets you create a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign just by toggling a switch. It’s as simple as it sounds. This blog will give you more insights. But if you think you’re a great visual learner, watch this step-by-step video to learn the steps in a jiffy!

6. Skipping Necessary Homework

fundraising mistakes

Especially when it comes to meetings in person, not doing your homework is one of the biggest fundraising mistakes you can make. This includes asking for too little, asking for too much, asking your prospect in the company of others, and asking for a donation too casually or too indirectly.

Deciding on how much to ask for is a challenging task. it requires in-depth research. You should segment your donor records stored in your donor management system to find out the giving abilities of your donors. Once you’ve segmented them into various groups, personalize your approach toward them. It can be done through donation appeal emails or letters, or even personal phone calls. Remember if you have found a potential major donor, your ask for a donation should be even more detailed, careful, and personalized. A case statement can be especially useful in situations like this.

Pro tip: When evaluating prospects’ wealth and affinity, look not only to your own donor database but to digital prospecting tools that are designed for donor research (e.g. i-waveWealthEngine, etc.).

Do your homework, make sure you research your prospect, and then listen. Listen carefully and actively. Perhaps you wanted to make an ask of $25,000 but throughout the conversation, the prospect gave you hints that you could ask for $100,000. Who would want to miss out on that?

7. Not Having a Recurring Donation Program

One-time donors matter. Whether they make a big or a small donation, every dollar counts. However, when it comes to nonprofit fundraising, recurring giving reigns supreme. It helps you maintain a steady stream of income throughout the year and make your life easier in general.

Recurring giving programs have a much higher return on investment compared to one-time giving programs. Monthly/quarterly/yearly donors have a higher retention rate than other types of donors. Furthermore, these programs are not only relatively simple to manage for nonprofits but they also make giving easy for donors.

When developing a great recurring giving program, make sure to first develop a donor-centric plan that includes your goals, target audience, measuring and evaluation system, etc. Make sure to brand it and give it space on your website. Promote it, and as always, showcase the impact of your donors’ contributions.

Finally, invest in a good recurring donation system. It will automate most of your tasks and let you easily accept recurring donations with just a donation form. Donorbox lets you add weekly/monthly/quarterly/annually recurring donation intervals to your donation form that can be easily embedded on your website or be used on the Donorbox-hosted donation page. Here’s a good example you should check out –

fundraising mistakes

Pro tip: The first step to making your recurring donation program successful is to focus on turning your one-time donors into recurring donors. They have given to you once already and have some knowledge about the organization. Cultivate relationships with these donors, build a sense of trust and transparency with them, and make them aware of ways they can help more. Lastly, make it easy for them to repeat a donation on the go. If you need better insights and more tips into this process, here’s a video to get you started.

8. Using a Poor Donation Page to Fundraise

Make sure the experience a prospect has on your website is user-friendly and smooth. Your donation page should be easy to find. Don’t hide your donation button! Place it at the top, make it bright and eye-catching so that they can quickly click on it and land on the donation page.

Design your donation page so as to be consistent with the rest of the website. Branding is of utmost importance. No matter if you’re redirecting to a different page, if the branding is consistent, people would feel comfortable about donating to you. It is also crucial to design a donation page that is mobile-friendly/responsive. This means the donation page will resize according to the device being used, allowing for optimal viewing.

Keep the donation page to one page, keep it simple and clear, with a call to action displayed front and central. Use powerful images and offer multiple payment options. Read more about how to design a great donation page here. Improving your donation page is probably the single biggest bang-for-buck improvement you can make to your website and the most effective way to boost your fundraising efforts.

Donorbox has popup and embeddable forms that will get easily set up on any website builder of your choice. The process is simple. You can customize the form, change color, add specific questions, and much more, then copy the code and paste it on your website editor to have a perfectly branded look on your donation page. Alternatively, you can use the automatically created Donorbox-hosted donation page that you can customize to your liking to match your brand. Here’s an example of a customized donation page hosted on Donorbox.

fundraising mistakes

9. Not Crowdfunding for Urgent Needs

Crowdfunding is the best way to raise money for short-term projects/campaigns, especially those for which you need the funds on an urgent basis. If you need to buy a piece of equipment, need urgent funds for a new building or renovation work, need money for an animal’s treatment at your shelter or need funds for your new research work, crowdfunding is the ideal way to go for it. This is especially helpful for smaller or medium-sized nonprofits that depend on small donation amounts. Imagine you receive $50 from 100 donors during a period of 15 days. You have already raised $5000. Plus, crowdfunding campaigns have great potential for social media shareability. You can post regular updates, appreciate donors, and encourage them to spread the word for increased reach.

Look at this successful crowdfunding campaign here. It’s a well-designed and branded page with social media buttons, a subscription option for potential donors, an Updates tab, donor wall, and a Details page for your campaign storytelling.

fundraising mistakes

10. Ignoring Excellent Fundraising Opportunities During Events

Most nonprofits run fundraising events at different times of the year. They sell tickets and ask attendees for donations. Some give while some don’t find it rather convenient to make a donation. The reason – your fundraising options are outdated or aren’t simple. Ask yourself these questions –

  1. Are all your attendees coming with cash or cheque?
  2. If not, what are the other options they have to donate?
  3. Is your online donation page link easy for them to find at the location?
  4. Are you making it easy for your virtual event attendees to donate?
  5. Are your online attendees engaged enough to sit through the event and make a donation?
  6. What are the new ways you can encourage more participation and increase funds?
  7. Would your attendees love to donate through a text? How easy would that be?
  8. How often are you making them aware of the ways to donate?

These are questions you need to ask yourself and your fundraising event staff much before you actually host the event. Most people do not carry cash anymore. They carry a mobile device. If you can get a QR code to your donation page and print it to post at different places at your event location, there’s nothing like it. Alternatively, give your online and in-person attendees a chance to text-to-give. It’s simple. All you need is a campaign ID and a texting number. As soon as they text the ID to the number, they receive a donation page link and can make the donation. Repeating such donations is even easier – just a simple text, no more going to the donation page again.

Now coming to engagement, you should liven up your events (both virtual and in-person) by letting some of your best supporters fundraise. Reward all of them for their effort on the event date. Add some fun games, raffles, a silent auction, challenges, etc. to your event. All this will not only boost engagement but also help you raise more funds.

Pro tip: Have an online system for managing your event registration and ticket details. Choose one that helps you put in the tax rate and fair market value of each ticket level and determine the tax deductibility, and send a receipt automatically upon purchase. This will help both you and the attendees. Donorbox lets you create event ticketing forms, unlimited ticket types, determine tax-deductibility of each type, manage your purchasers’ and ticket information at the backend, automatically send tickets and receipts, and also accept donations from the event page. Know more about Donorbox Events here.

fundraising mistakes

11. Underinvesting in Fundraising Efforts

fundraising mistakes

By their nature, nonprofits are very cautious about the way they spend their money, and this is understandable. They are generously funded by donors to deliver their mission. This is why many nonprofits underinvest in their fundraising efforts. It happens every year at thousands of organizations, and it leads to the death or stagnation of many nonprofits.

Of course, the root cause of organizations underinvesting in their fundraising efforts is often an altruistic one. Many nonprofits are trying hard to spend as much of their fundraising revenue as possible on providing programs and services. Many are uncomfortable spending their donors’ money on overheads or a new website. However, if a nonprofit doesn’t place enough value on its fundraising capacity building, it will stagnate, regress, or fail. Fundraising doesn’t just magically ‘happen’. See your fundraising expenses as an investment, instead of a “necessary evil”.

You can’t launch a $1 million fundraising campaign for $1,000. You can’t run a $1 million development office with no fundraising staff members and expect it to be sustainable. If you want to get better at raising money, you must invest in the right strategy, hire fundraisers, train your existing staff, and invest in systems to build relationships and raise money. This capacity capital investment in your fundraising can more than pay for itself in a few years.


Nonprofit Fundraising Mistakes

There is no magic potion for successful fundraising. From the Ice Bucket Challenge to crowdfunding, to social media, it seems there is always something ‘new’ that nonprofits think is “the thing” that will finally solve their problems and make them financially sustainable. Fortunately or unfortunately, the reality is that reaching the fundraising goals you want to achieve as an organization is hard work. There is no easy fix.

Making mistakes in fundraising is normal, and it can’t be fully avoided. Everything is a process of growth and learning for your organization.

Do the small things well and consistently. Make sure you do your homework before fundraising meetings. Make sure donating on your website is easy. Say thank you. Segment your donors and supporters and send only news that is relevant to them. Hire someone to write your fundraising plan if you lack the expertise. Make your impact report understandable. Interact with your social media followers.

Get more fundraising tips and resources on our nonprofit blog. Subscribe to our newsletter for a curated list of top resources delivered to your inbox every month.

Ilma Ibrisevic is a content creator and nonprofit writer. She’s passionate about meaningful work, sustainability, and social movements. If she’s not working, she’s obsessing over coffee or cooking. You can connect with her on Linkedin.

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