How Environmental Nonprofits Can Increase Fundraising
Guest blogger (and our former intern) Casey Combs, is the Director of Development at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia. Casey stops by the blog to talk about the state of fundraising for environmental causes.
With the recent Paris Climate Talks, there is a current dialogue to bring our mission to new audiences. And even though our sector shares a small piece of the giving pie, maybe it’s not as bleak as it sounds. Environmental giving has increased in the last year by 7%, making it one of the fastest growing sectors, only behind Arts and Culture. And with this past #GivingTuesday, animals and the environment were two of the five top giving categories. Right now, our sector is on a tipping point. We are poised to connect with new audiences and create a lasting impact for generations to come.
Building a strong case for support within environmental organizations seems like an easy task. Nine out of the last eleven months have already broke high temperature records in 136 years of data, nearly 1,000 species of animals are facing extinction each year, and land lost to deforestation is 30 times higher than the past. So why does charitable giving to the environmental and animal sectors only account for 3% of all donations?
Perhaps the answer lies in the complexity of the issues we are trying to solve. How can we convince a donor that the $100 gift can make a global impact? Environmental issues are extremely complex, and reporting overwhelming statistics does not help a donor feel that they are able to make a difference. So, how can we build support and increase giving in the Environmental/Animal Sectors?
Stories are powerful. Stories connect donors to your cause on a personal level. Stories create a sense of urgency and need. Stories unravel the complexity of the issues you are working to address. And stories show donors that they can make a difference by presenting a problem with a clear solution. We recognize that as a small environmental nonprofit, we are not able to fix the world’s problems on our own. But we can create a local impact to be a piece of the larger puzzle for global change. Our Wildlife Clinic receives over 3,300 injured and orphaned animals each year. Now, try imagining that number. What does 3,300 animals look like in your mind? What about 100? What about one red fox whose leg was injured in a trap, brought to the Clinic, rehabilitated and released back into the wild? Donors need to know that their money will have a true impact. By telling a story of a single injured animal, how it was injured, how it was saved, and how this was only possible because of you.
One of the top reasons donors stop giving is because they no longer feel connected to the organization. It is important to not just think of donors as financial supporters. They are also neighbors, friends, and a part of the larger community. Donors do not want to just hear from you when you are asking for money. They want to feel connected and involved in your mission. We aim to send at least three engagement messages for every one direct ask. Newsletters, annual reports, and social media are all ways to reach out and connect with supporters. I use handwritten notes, birthday and holiday cards, and phone calls to reach out to our constituents.
We’ve also found that invites to special programs, events, and volunteer opportunities are other ways to connect donors with mission. We learned, too, not to be afraid to ask our volunteers for financial support. They already give their time, and often many nonprofits feel like asking for financial support may be insulting. Remember that these volunteers already believe in your mission, and they want to help to whatever degree their capacity allows. Just make sure you acknowledge their efforts when you do ask for additional financial support.
Segment Your Audience
At the Schuylkill Center we have programs that support children’s environmental education, animal welfare, land restoration, birding, gardeners, and more. What programs have your donors attended? What are their interests? Have they supported specific projects in the past? We try to create customized messaging for each audience, and tell them how supporting the overall mission benefits their passion.
Don’t be afraid of “stirring the pot” every now and then. We recently worked with an artist to create an environmental art exhibit using invasive vines. Social media followers held a heated debate on whether an invasive plant was inherently “bad” in an urban environment. These conflicting viewpoints brought our mission to a larger audience, and we were able to introduce new individuals to our mission.
Solicit All Types of Funders
We all know the importance of multi-channel fundraising. Whether it’s individuals, foundations, or corporations, all serve as important funders and advocates of our mission. Just remember that each funder type may have a different motivation for financial support. Corporations and Foundations may be much more interested in metrics and evaluation methods, while individuals will want to connect on an emotional level. As fundraising professionals, we are always pursuing the Golden Ticket of General Operating Support. We know the needs of our organization, and we appreciate using a donation for where it is needed most. However, we often forget to take a good, hard look at our program budgets. If they are not fully funded with targeted grants and donations, what is the difference between a restricted grant and a GOS grant that is used to fill a program deficit? I’ve found it much easier to gain support for a specific program. A donor may not be interested in “connecting people with nature,” but may be very interested in providing scholarships to at-risk teens to increase STEM-education.
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