Nonprofit Essentials: Attracting Private Donors

In the previous installment of our ongoing series, we talked about why and how to seek public grant money. Today, we’ll turn our focus to private donors and all the ways they can make life easier with fewer strings attached. Each year in the U.S., donors contribute more than $250 billion to nonprofit and charitable organizations.

Get ready for the competition

That’s a lot of social change. But as with grants, the competition for private contributions is tough, and successfully courting these donations requires a thoughtful, calculated effort. As much as you want to believe it, Leonardo DiCaprio is not waiting for you to come onto the scene, and the line of organizations asking for his money is out the door.

The good news is that unlike grants, private donations can be sought with much more flexibility. From big events to individual asks to high-volume microdonations, the private sector has much to offer your budding nonprofit, and your approach to recruiting these funds will have a lot to do with the nature of your organization, particularly the change you mean to implement or the object of your charitable efforts.

Form follows function

Some causes will lend themselves naturally to broad messages, even merchandise. These causes will tend to be those with whom few if any disagree. From child literacy to saving the African rhino to promoting cancer awareness, these causes are easy to understand and advocate. Supporters can even buy merchandise and advertise your organization and their support. This approach wouldn’t work as well for Planned Parenthood.

Public and private audiences

Many nonprofits focus on controversial subjects, and while some may want to publicly show their support, others will want to keep their involvement private. Recent pushes for marijuana legalization reveal the silent supporter. Not every cause is promoted equally. The best approach is to leave it to the donor whether he or she is willing to publicly endorse your organization’s efforts. If not, just take the money.

There is a nearly endless variety of ways to ask people for money. Doing so in a way that is in line with your organization’s values and that fits your donors is the tricky part. In our next installment, Raise the Money will finish our series on Nonprofit Essentials with some suggestions for recruiting and managing volunteers online.