Traditionally, the idea of working from home conjured images of lounging in sweatpants and less-than-stellar productivity. But as we’ve learned since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible to still accomplish key goals and drive missions forward outside the office.
With the right tools and processes, all kinds of organizations have been able to adapt to the work-from-home (WFH) environment with great success, and the nonprofit sector is no exception. Fundraising professionals have navigated uncharted territory to engage supporters, raise critical funds, and conduct day-to-day operations all from the comfort of home offices.
As the year draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of your WFH plans and make adjustments to align with best practices. After all, the end of social distancing isn’t on the horizon anytime soon, and you don’t want to lose momentum. With powerful technology and data-informed strategies, you can still achieve your online fundraising goals while working from home.
At SalsaLabs, we specialize in helping nonprofits leverage technology to work more efficiently and boost their fundraising potential. We’ve seen how nonprofits in the field incorporate innovative tools into their WFH routines with great success. So, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help drive your virtual fundraising efforts forward:
- Use data to drive more effective communications.
- Explore diverse revenue streams.
- Host engaging virtual events.
- Leverage machine learning technology.
- Make use of marketing automation.
While a remote work environment may not facilitate in-person conversations, there are still plenty of opportunities to connect with supporters through virtual means. Technology can help you build on your existing donor data for time-saving and informed outreach, which can create even more effective fundraising processes. Let’s jump in.
1. Use data to drive more effective communications.
When you can’t connect with your community in person, your online communications are even more critical. If a donor’s primary touchpoint with your nonprofit this year is via email, your messaging needs to make each individual feel recognized, appreciated, and capable of making an impact.
The best way to accomplish these goals is to leverage supporter data when crafting your campaigns. Instead of sending impersonal emails to everyone on your mailing list, you can target groups or even individuals for a more relevant and personalized message.
You can use available donor data to:
- Create segments of donors. Create segments, or groups, based on key characteristics, then use these groups to send targeted messages. Studies show that segmentation can lead to up to a 760% increase in revenue! While the options for categorizing donors are nearly endless, you can sort groups by engagement type, giving preferences, or demographic information. For instance, you could start a campaign specifically targeting Gen Z supporters, or craft separate end-of-year thank-you emails to address volunteers, major donors, event attendees, and first-time donors in different ways.
- Personalize messages to individuals. Adding a personal touch to outgoing messages can help your supporters feel seen and recognized. While adding the donor’s name to the subject line or greeting is a great start, you can go even further. Try incorporating details like a recent donation amount, event attendance history, or information specific to your mission (like a pet’s name if you work with an animal shelter). Marketing automation tools (which we’ll discuss in further detail later in this article) allow you to address each individual supporter without anyone needing to manually write in the information on individual messages.
These strategies allow you to take advantage of the valuable information in your donor database software for more engaging messaging and fundraising appeals. However, make sure you’re only using clean and well-organized data to execute these tasks. An email subject line addressed to the wrong supporter is worse than a generic one!
2. Explore diverse revenue streams.
This era of social distancing and economic uncertainty has proven the importance of diversifying your nonprofit’s revenue streams.
If you only rely on one fundraising platform, like an in-person event or a handful of major donors, you’ll be more vulnerable to unexpected changes.
A diverse range of revenue streams will help ensure your fundraising strategy is resilient, sustainable, and less susceptible to risks.
A few creative options worth exploring are:
- Recurring gift campaign. Encouraging supporters to schedule recurring gifts can help you create a predictable stream of revenue. You may even consider providing branded items as a thank-you for their ongoing support as part of a membership program.
- Grant opportunities. In the wake of COVID-19, grant-seeking institutions and corporations have both pledged to make funds more readily available to nonprofits. You can conduct research to look for opportunities in your area or look for large-scale programs by national funders.
- Corporate philanthropy. Matching gifts programs are a remote-friendly way to maximize revenue from your supporters. According to this Double the Donation roundup of matching gift statistics, between $4 and $7 million dollars in eligible matching gifts go unclaimed every year! By focusing your efforts on matching gifts, you’ll unlock new opportunities for funding without much extra work for your team. To do this, you can create a campaign to spread awareness about matching gifts among your supporters, manually screen donations for matching gift eligibility, or use a comprehensive matching gift automation platform to streamline the process.
- Peer-to-peer fundraising. Even though you can’t get together in person, your supporters can still use virtual strategies to share your organization with family and friends. This strategy allows you to leverage the networks of your supporters and reach an even larger audience.
By incorporating one or more of these strategies alongside your current fundraising efforts, you’ll be more prepared to survive if one of the streams dries up.
3. Host engaging virtual events.
While you may not be able to gather donors together in person, you can still create an exciting and community-focused virtual event.
Not only can virtual events be powerful fundraisers, but they’re also opportunities to share your work with supporters, foster connections between supporters and your mission, and encourage supporters to form bonds amongst themselves.
As this guide discusses, virtual events are often more economically feasible and widely accessible. Therefore, your organization will be able to engage even more attendees for a lower cost, boosting your profit.
You can host a fundraising-focused event like an online auction or virtual walk, or you can host virtual stewardship events. Any kind of virtual event can be used for stewardship if you don’t charge an admission fee—consider a virtual happy hour, book club, or dinner party as a few potential ideas.
While the primary goal of a stewardship event won’t be to raise money, it’s still an important component of a relationship-based fundraising strategy. Forming deeper connections now will prepare you for making more effective asks in the future.
If you decide to host a virtual event, be sure to plan ahead for potential technical issues. Share connection information with supporters well in advance, provide plenty of tech support for potential questions, and troubleshoot your virtual event platform ahead of time.
4. Make use of marketing automation.
Marketing automation has been a growing nonprofit trend in recent years, and for good reason: it enables teams to work more effectively with limited resources. Marketing automation can help you level-up your remote fundraising efforts.
While marketing automation isn’t a substitute for a solid foundation of data, it unlocks the ability to contact the right person with the right message at the right time—without a staff member needing to hover over the send button. As long as you start with a solid understanding of your supporter base, automation can help you accelerate your outreach.
You can automate many aspects of your marketing strategy, including posting to social media, capturing leads via your website landing pages, or sending emails. One of the most popular ways to utilize automation technology is through an email stream, also known as a drip campaign.
Here’s how an email stream would work, with the example of a potential donor named Jack:
- Jack lands on your nonprofit’s website and signs up for your email newsletter.
- Jack receives a “welcome series” of emails once per week with more information about your nonprofit’s mission, current programs, ways to get involved, and how to donate.
- The series runs at a specified cadence until Jack completes the desired action (making a donation) or until a certain period of time has elapsed.
Your series could be just a few emails or it can be 10 emails over the course of a few months. All of those messages are sent without anyone on your staff actually pressing the send button, and, if crafted in a compelling way, can generate significant funds for your organization.
Beware, automation can’t fix a message that’s not relevant or interesting to your audience! Make sure each element of your automated campaign is based on the data you have available. Incorporating some of the other tips on this list (like personalization and segmentation) will help you do this.
5. Leverage machine learning technology.
Another powerful way tech can boost your fundraising while working from home is through machine learning. Essentially, machine learning allows computers to make sense of large data sets (like the information in your donor database) to find patterns and make predictions.
For example, machine learning can help you to:
- Identify potential major donors.
- Tailor ask amounts to a donor’s giving history.
One of the most advantageous aspects of machine learning is that it continues to improve over time. As more data is available, the analysis and predictions become more accurate. After all, it’s called machine learning for a reason!
To consider a specific example, Salsa’s SmartEngagement technology uses machine learning to power predictive analytics for donation pages. By taking into account all of the historical data you have on a supporter, the program can display optimized ask amounts on your donation form. This helps to increase conversion rates and to avoid the risk of missing out on funds from an ask that was too low.
If you have a large quantity of supporter data to sift through, consider looking for a CRM that offers machine learning capabilities so you can draw insights more efficiently.
This year, nonprofit fundraisers have needed to adjust their plans and reinvent traditional strategies. While normal in-person fundraising is unlikely to resume for the time being, there are still plenty of ways you can raise money for your mission while staying safe. With these tech-savvy tips, your fundraising staff will be well-positioned for success. Good luck!