4 Ways to Unlock Your In-Person Fundraising Today

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Last Friday was Fundraising Day here in New York City, and it was a pleasure to set up shop at the Marriott Marquis and spend the (long!) day face-to-face with nonprofits large and small.

It was a joyful event, with recent college graduate volunteers walking the hall alongside lifelong development professionals keeping their fingers on the pulse of new innovation. But mixed in with the joy was palpable frustration.

It’s a tough time to be raising money out in the real world: potential donors aren’t carrying cash to drop into a donation box, and they’re not responding to alternative calls to action in the real world or online. Reliable donors are dropping out of campaign rolls, and prospective supporters aren’t making their way into the ranks.

I heard about the same challenges from representatives of universities and hospitals, local arts groups and international aid groups. It made me think that everyone could benefit from some observations about the problems of collecting donations in 2016 — and some ideas for solving them.

Organizations can improve their in-person fundraising efforts by:

  1. Collecting Donations On-Site
  2. Engaging With Donors at Events
  3. Empowering Chapters and Volunteers
  4. Partnering with Corporate and Retail Supporters

Before digging into the details, it’s essential to keep these facts in mind: Americans want to be generous! They gave more to charity last year than ever before. But they also want generosity to happen on their terms: they want giving to be fast and easy, and they want their donation to be tied to a clear encounter with the cause so they can see the work they’re supporting firsthand.

Step 1: Collecting on Site

Many of the causes I spoke to at Fundraising Day are lucky enough to see their beneficiaries in person each and every day. Their shared challenge was in how to turn these beneficiaries and supporters into donors.

Universities soliciting for the senior class gift find that students don’t have checks, and they don’t want to fill out paper pledge cards. (“Does the University development office take Venmo?”) Municipal parks once had cash donation boxes on stanchions near their entrances and basketball courts, but they’re emptier every day.

A volunteer at a food pantry or a parent at a children’s hospitals might respond to an annual mail solicitation — but she can’t give when looking into the eyes of the grateful father getting affordable food for his family or the nurse making sure her sick daughter can smile through her shot.

These are the challenges we took to heart in designing DipJar, and it’s been edifying to see causes like the New York Public Library and 9/11 Memorial Museum unlock donations by placing DipJars where potential supporters are having an encounter with the cause. They’re making joyful, friction-free donations even without cash or checks in their pockets.

Step 2: Engaging With Donors at Events

Events are essential modes of engaging steadfast supporters and creating new ones — whether it’s the annual gala, the young professional cocktail party, or the weekend festival.

Folks I spoke to at Fundraising Day have tried everything to increase donations at events. First off, there’s the price of admission and the sale of raffle tickets. Second, there’s the “just because” donation solicitation — by check, credit card pledge, dongle donation (e.g. with Square), or text-to-give.

But all of these strategies have proved challenging. No one wants to spend their time at a party filling out a paper credit card donation form. Older donors don’t have the patience to struggle through a dongle donation or trust enough to hand their card over to be swiped into an intern’s phone.

I spoke to one event director at Fundraising Day who said her organization had spent thousands of dollars to set up text-to-give for their annual gala, and in the end they collected fewer than 50% of the pledges! The multi-step process was confusing and suffered from staggeringly high attrition.

The good news is that people coming to your events are already supporting your cause. With lower-friction tools for ticket sales, raffle entry, and “just because” donations at the gala table or cocktail bar, these events can be huge moneymakers.

Even more, a modest ask that’s easy to answer makes for a great “gateway gift,” especially for younger donors who can’t afford to write a big check or sign up for the annual membership. A small donation cements your cause in their mind as one they support and can drive bigger involvement down the line. Behavioral psychologists have long understood this effect — the “Foot in the Door” phenomenon — and you can leverage it to create future big-ticket donors today.

Step 3: Empowering Chapters and Volunteers

Other causes whose representatives I met on Friday were less concerned with how to fundraise from their visitors or event attendees — instead, they wanted to know how to empower their volunteers.

Especially true for national organizations with local chapters doing work in decentralized communities, causes need tools to foster fundraising in a way that’s authentic to each local chapter — but still manageable from home base.

I met two passionate professionals working at the headquarters of an organization that manages dozens of local shelters and educational training centers. How could they make sure each center had the tools it needed to raise money in the community, while making sure accounting and tracking didn’t get out of control?

Thankfully, with the right tools, organizations can enable chapters and volunteers to run their own fundraising drives and host their own events — with funds easily trackable, and even with each donation going straight into the main organization’s bank account.

Step 4: Partnering with Corporate and Retail Supporters

The final concern that popped up repeatedly in my conversations with the impassioned and introspective administrators I met was how to effectively work with corporate partners.

Retailers want to support causes — it lets them do good while benefiting from the brand halo that comes with CSR. But cash boxes they have on their counters are emptier by the day.

Some will train their staff to ask for a donation that’s programmed into their point-of-sale system, but running that kind of campaign is expensive and requires a very high level of buy-in — infrastructure that’s out of reach for small and medium-sized business.

In-office fundraising of the kind performed by the United Way is also an old standby, but it suffers from the complexity of tracking funds and the resistance of corporate workers to writing their credit card information on pieces of paper or bringing a check to work.

It’s challenges like these that DipJar was designed to overcome. Our hardware and software can be deployed on site, at events, with local chapters and volunteers, and with retail partners — all enabling a one-step, joyful donation that’s a perfect foot-in-the-door gift.

We’re continuing to learn from folks like the Fundraising Day attendees — as we do, let us know if we can help you unlock your full fundraising potential today and every day!

Additional Resources: 

  1. 6 Fundraising Gala Tips: In-person fundraising doesn't have to be difficult! With these fundraising gala tips, you can learn how to raise money during large events. 
  2. Tips to Raise More Event Donations: You may be familiar with using donation kiosks for fundraising during events, but did you know that you can use them to raise money to fund your event? Learn more about collecting donations for your event budget. 
  3. 7 Must-Have Donation Kiosk Features: The key to successful in-person fundraising is having a giving kiosk that's versatile enough to fit every situation your nonprofit might encounter. Learn about the top features you should look for in a kiosk.