11 Lessons Learned From The First-Ever Community-Driven Fundraising Summit


Did you happen to listen in on the first-ever community-driven fundraising summit? It was a jam-packed day of inspirational anecdotes, educational sessions, and expert speakers. There were literally hundreds of takeaways– so many in fact, that we had to compile a 26-page document just so sort through all of them!

During the summit, we dove into community-driven fundraising and DIY fundraising with Noah, Rob, and Chris from CauseVox, learned email best practices from Brady, talked donor retention with Steven, discussed digital storytelling with Julia, and heard from four different nonprofits about their experience with community-driven fundraising.

As each session progressed, it became clear: community-driven fundraising is the future of fundraising.

Here are 11 direct takeaways from the first-ever community-driven fundraising summit.

1. Fundraising Looks Different Today

There’s no denying that fundraising today looks different than it did a decade ago, let along 50 years ago!

What started as localized fundraising evolved to mass fundraising and eventually Internet-fueled fundraising. During these “advancements,” nonprofits focused less on building relationships, and more just reaching out to as many prospective givers as possible. Email blasts and display ads became the norm, and they didn’t help with donor retention in the least; they merely rented attention.

Even with so much digital noise, each touch lacked a personal touch.

But today’s donor doesn’t want that noise; they want to feel appreciated and part of a community. Therefore, nonprofits must build relationships with donors starting by laying a foundation of inspiration. From there, they can engage and activate those supporters, and eventually rally them to lend support in many ways, including using their influence to encourage others to get involved with the cause.

Today’s fundraising is less about the transaction and more about the relationship.

2. People Don’t Engage With Brands as Much as Before

Trust in brands is decreasing, and there’s an across-the-board decrease in brand engagement on social media. This shift is due to many factors, including ever-changing Facebook rules, ad blockers, hyper-personalized feeds, and limited access to messaging systems– all of which limit the ways brands communicate with followers.

So, who are people engaging with? Their friends, family, coworkers, and other networks, of course.

People are looking to others for information and inspiration, meaning that you can tout your organization’s great work until the cows come home, but that same message means much more when it comes from your supporters.

Bottom line: invest in your current relationships. These people will become your vocal advocates down the road.

3. It Takes a Community to Change a Community

CauseVox co-founder Rob Wu opened up the first-ever community-driven fundraising summit with a quote: “We believe that it takes a community to change a community.”

This theme, which focuses on the power your supporters have in sharing and ultimately growing your mission, was built on throughout the event.

Your community includes everyone your nonprofit partners with: your donors, volunteers, board members, staff, online audience, and more. Each one of these people has a voice, and that voice is helpful in retaining those partners and inspiring new ones.

If you’re struggling to raise money and fulfill your organization’s mission, refocus your efforts on building your community.

4. Fundraising is a Common Struggle Amongst Nonprofits

We heard it from GLAAD’s Priya Patel, MPPH’s Jake Vermillion, CCAN’s Danniele Fulmer, and N Street Village’s Makenzie Delmotte: fundraising is difficult.

Whether you struggle with getting your message across, engaging current donors, repeating the same campaigns over and over, asking the same people, and offering a fresh perspective; recognize that many are in the same boat.

The difference between organizations poised to thrive in this new fundraising environment and those that may not survive is a commitment to relationship building.

“Some organizations will thrive from this increased chaos, some will be unprepared, and some will merely fight it and lose.” – Seth Godin

5. DIY Fundraising Engages Your Community Year-Round

DIY fundraising similar to peer-to-peer in that a supporter raises money on behalf of your organization, but with DIY, it’s on your supporter’s own terms.

This community-driven fundraising technique can happen any time, from any location. All it takes is a program (set up by you), some guidelines, and eager supporters ready to rally.

You can learn the ins and outs of DIY fundraising here.

6. Focus on the Donors You Have, Not the Ones You’ve Lost

Steven Shattuck of Bloomerang presented a startling fact: Only 5% of lapsed donors return to an organization. So if you’re spending your fundraising dollars on donor recaptures, it’s best to take a step back and consider other more effective ways to raise money.

The good news is that first-time donor retention is trending upwards, meaning your money is better spent nurturing these future vocal advocates.

Although it hurts to say it, your best bet is to focus on the people you already have, not the ones you’ve lost.

7. There are Proven Ways to Retain Donors

Steven also reminded us that 100% of donor retention is virtually impossible, but there are many proven ways to boost your numbers. These include:

  • Proving your organization is effective
  • Sending segmented communications
  • Timely thank yous, and thanking before asking
  • Sending warm, humanized stories
  • Surveying donors for feedback, especially first-time donors

Above all, make your donors feel part of your cause.

8. Personal Fundraisers Need Guidance

Fundraising may be second nature to you, but you simply can’t assume your personal fundraisers know the ropes. Supporting them is essential if you want to maximize their reach and continue building stronger relationships.

Even though the Chesapeake Climate Action Network had been running the same fundraiser for 14 years, the team knew fundraiser guidance was vital if they wanted to grow the event. According to Danniele Fulmer, “we needed to hone in on our support efforts for fundraisers.” CCAN did this by creating step-by-step resources (a toolkit) for fundraisers to use as they walked through the process. They also send weekly emails, video tutorials, and held one-on-one phone calls with fundraisers near the end of the campaign.

These extra touches help improve and enhance the fundraiser experience.

9. Attention is the Most Valuable Currency

One of the most common statements during the first-ever community-driven fundraising summit was: Attention is the most valuable currency.

But what does this mean?

In our increasingly connected world, we’re all bombarded with messages. We hear from our friends and family, and also brands and businesses marketing to us. Getting noticed is hard, but necessary in order to get in front of your supporters.

Per Julia Campbell, effective storytelling drives attention. Try:

  • Flipping the script and doing something that’s unexpected or timely.
  • Giving your nonprofit audience the opportunity to tell their own story
  • Finish a story by asking your reader to complete a specific action (donate, share, etc.)
  • Focus on how you’re making your audience feel

Once you get their attention, you can steward and build from it.

10. Humanize Your Emails for Better Response

When it comes to fundraising emails, many of us are missing the mark. We’re swapping out person-to-person emails with mass-produced, impersonal blasts; which don’t do anything but alienate supporters from the real work you’re doing.

Email is still a strong source of nonprofit funding but as Brady Josephson explained, “by sending more human-sounding emails, you get more clicks, opens, and donations.”

Brady suggests building a strong first-impression by:

  • Sending your email from a person (preferably a supporter’s peer or someone they know), not an organization
  • Creating an authentic subject line
  • Limiting design
  • Using copy that sounds like it’s written from a person.

Keep in mind, people give to people and not machines.

11. Continue Learning and Evolving Your Strategy

As nonprofits continue to fine-tune the process, we’re bound to hear new best practices, tips, and tricks to help you and your nonprofit on your journey.

Take the time to rewatch the summit recording and review notes from the event. Highlight any areas you’d like to learn more about, and reach out CauseVox and your nonprofit peers for inspiration and support. When you’re ready, slowly incorporate elements of community-driven fundraising into your plan, and get ready for stronger relationships and deeper engagement.

And don’t forget to stay tuned. The conversation around community-driven fundraising is just getting started!

Are you ready to ramp up your community-driven fundraising efforts? If so, schedule a one-on-one chat with a member of our team. We’ll walk you through the CDF process, and help you imagine how your organization can amplify your reach, acquire new donors, and raise more money for your mission.

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