5 Steps to Flip the Ladder Sideways and Grow Your Grassroots Donors

This is a guest post written by Janice Chan, who often writes for our friends at Wethos over at The Nonprofit Revolution. In over a decade in the nonprofit sector, Janice has written fundraising appeals and grant proposals, led social media outreach, managed volunteers, executed rollout plans, managed donor and program databases, and learned the hard way that changing to a new website host means you’d better make sure that donation form still works!

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Ever played that team building game, “All Aboard”? You’re in a group and you are given say, a hand towel or a telephone book (showing my age here, I know), and the goal is to get everybody on board without anyone having a foot touching the ground. Depending on the variation or the prop used, the boat may get smaller (e.g. towel is folded in half) or your group may get bigger — and still you need to get everyone on board without any feet touching the ground.

Often, working at a nonprofit organization can feel that way. You’re trying to serve the same number of people with fewer resources, or serve more people with the same amount of resources. This metaphor is not only apropos to programming, but to fundraising as well. You’re trying to raise funds from more supporters (get more people on board) with the same number of staff or resources. And yet, the more you raise, the more people (donors and clients) you can get on board.

It does not need to be an endless game of chicken, egg, chicken, egg.

That’s why you focus on major gifts and/or grants, right? We know it’s important to respect donors at all levels, but in terms of where we spend our fundraising resources (time, budget, attention), it is clear that we prioritize funders who can give large gifts. But it’s easy to take those smaller dollar annual gifts for granted — just send or share it out to enough people and build our lists and followers because it is a small percentage of volume, volume, volume.

Or is it?

We tend to believe, particularly if we are smaller organizations, in the myth of scarcity. That if we spent time focusing on small-dollar donors, it would take away from the time we spend on major gifts and grants, and that would cause much bigger problems if we didn’t have those. We act as if this were a game of musical chairs instead. And so we close ourselves off to the people who could help us.

Worse, we leave people feeling like their contributions won’t matter unless they can write a check with more than two digits in front of the decimal point.

The trick to playing “All Aboard” is that when you have more people, you can use each other to hold all of you up. The more people you have, the more people you can get on board. This is not musical chairs. But you have to involve every person on board.

One, value small-dollar donors.

Valuing small-dollar donors isn’t simply the right thing to do; it’s a key part of any smart fundraising strategy. Small-dollar donors provide increased revenue, can be more vocal supporters and ambassadors for your organization once they’ve invested in your work, and can donate multiple times.

Valuing donors is not about what we say but whether our donors feel like they matter to us. You know how we rush to address whatever it is that a major donor, funder, or board member raised as an issue, no matter how small? Or how we otherwise pay attention to all aspects of their donor experience? Sometimes it’s because they are important details; sometimes the details are simply important to them. Donor experience is key at all levels. What if we took the same care and put the same level of thought into how all of our donors experience supporting our organization?

Note that I said thought, not necessarily time. Often, we know more than we give ourselves credit for knowing. Like the fact that increasing numbers of donors give via mobile devices. Or that A/B testing is an effective way to experiment and see what works best for your particular donors.

But getting there seems overwhelming and, as a small or medium nonprofit, like it’s out of our league. However, technology advances all the time but so do the services available. Customizable, data-driven online fundraising platforms are no longer as out of reach as you think — not in cost or in staff capacity to manage and maximize.

Two, create a plan to grow the number of small-dollar donors.

Giving Tuesday doesn’t just magically happen as some type of positive penance amid the Cyber Monday hangover (Cyber Monday also not being a natural consequence of Black Friday).

Grassroots fundraising can change the game if you’re intentional about it. What does intentional look like? There is a strategy, there are planned efforts to grow the number of small-dollar donors, and these efforts are tracked, measured, and evaluated to inform future efforts. These strategies don’t have to break the bank, and the right expertise is also not as out of reach as you think! (Not entirely sure what you need? Platforms like Wethos offer free consultations that can help you define your project prior to hiring a freelancer.)

And remember how we talked about involving every person on board? Traditionally, fundraising has been about moving donors up the ladder of engagement over time, from smaller annual gifts to larger major gifts. But that’s ignoring a subset of donors who, for various reasons, wish to give lower amounts, or who perhaps would rather give smaller amounts more often, a.k.a. recurring gifts.

Flip the ladder of engagement sideways, like a platform you can build on. Challenges and matches can be a successful strategy for getting people on board, while giving your major donors a new way in which to support your organization and grow your capacity.

Three, set a goal to encourage recurring gifts from small-dollar donors.

Yes, we can ask small-dollar donors for recurring gifts, and yes, we can receive them. Even if the amount per donation is lower, the recurring nature means that a donor will likely give more than if you had asked them for a one-time gift. For example, you might only get $25 as a one-time gift but the same donor might be willing to pledge $5/month for 12 months (and $5 x 12 = $60).

You know what else? It is also a sign that this donor is more connected to your cause and your organization, which means they will probably be more likely to respond to your other calls to action. It’s also easier to ask friends to give when, hey, you support this organization every month.

Want recurring gifts? As with all fundraising, you won’t get what you don’t ask for. Build this into your strategy and your online giving forms. (Or take the time-saving approach and choose a platform like AB Charities where recurring gifts and management of them is already built in.)

Four, for any goals, figure out how you’ll evaluate your progress.

A big benefit of grassroots fundraising? Sample size. This makes it much faster to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. And whereas some donors may be fairly forthright about why they did or didn’t give to you, raising money online also gives you the benefits of tracking things like how many people visit your online donation page without clicking through — and where they dropped off in the process.

Five, apply what you’ve learned to value your grassroots donors.

And like that Brian McKnight song, we are back at one.

Best practices are not without merit, but they are not based on your particular organization or your supporters. Use what you learn to continue to figure out how to make all your donors feel valued, respected, and like their contribution matters. This will change over time. Good thing is that so do the tools and resources available to us.

You do what you do because your organization believes in our capacity to be better, in our capacity to make the world better. Believe in the capacity of your grassroots donors.

All aboard!

This post was written for AB Charities in partnership with Wethos and also appears on their blog, The Nonprofit Revolution.

Why it’s so important to move money fast

It’s always been our mission to help people have an impact on the issues and causes they care about. When it’s easy for small-dollar donors to hop on their phones or computers and chip in what they can, they contribute more frequently and truly feel invested in the movements they’re supporting.

Another important factor that influences whether or not donors ultimately decide to give? They want to trust the platform and the donation process. And that includes having a good sense of what happens with their money after they click that donate button. We know that when donors chip in to support critical work, they expect the donations they’re making to get to the groups they’re supporting ASAP. They want to help groups hit their goals and be successful. It’d be a real shame for the money they give to sit for weeks or even months before being put to work, but that’s the reality with some fundraising platforms.

In 2017 alone, there were over 7,800 groups using our platform — from charities raising money for disaster relief to diaper banks in communities across the country. These are all groups doing critical work, and it’s important for them to have quick access to the money they’re raising. Not only does this help organizations do their best work, but it helps donors know that their contributions are going to make a real difference in the work they care about.

So how does this play out day-to-day? Think back to the many natural disasters Americans had to face last year. They needed funds and supplies quickly in order to begin recovering after hurricanes and wildfires. Millions of folks stepped up to help out and chipped in online to do their part. We were able to send checks right away, so organizations in the affected communities could put the funds right into relief efforts when they needed it most.

When groups raise small-dollar donations on AB Charities, we send them a check with the money you’ve chipped in every week without fail. Whether it’s a holiday or the middle of a snowstorm, we print checks and get them mailed out to organizations every Monday. We’re also available at a moment’s notice if nonprofits are in a pinch and need their money quicker than usual. We can overnight a check or wire money directly to a group’s bank account, at no additional cost.

Long story short? If you’re working for a nonprofit, you can rest assured that the donations you’re raising on our platform will get to you quickly. And if you’re a donor chipping in what you can to support work you believe in, know that your donations will be put to work and making a difference in no time.

If you have questions about using AB Charities to raise money, or want to learn more, just drop us a line at support@actblue.com.

Announcing a brand-new integration with Salesforce

In order to run an effective fundraising program, we know it’s essential for organizations to have access to their donor and contribution data where and when they need it.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that we’ve just rolled out an integration with Salesforce! If you’re using AB Charities to fundraise but using Salesforce as your CRM, you’ll now be able to sync data across both platforms in real time. And it’s free!

Salesforce is a leader in the nonprofit space and we’re very excited we could build this integration. Now folks using their tools and ActBlue will have access to all the details of a contribution (like whether it was recurring, the amount, and the refcode), as well as donor info including email addresses within Salesforce, all in real time.

Using this new integration will help nonprofit organizations run data-driven fundraising programs and build workflows that are best for their budget and their goals. If you’re interested in setting up a Salesforce integration with AB Charities, or have any questions about this new feature, you can email us at support@actblue.com.

For those organizations that might be using other CRMs, we offer integrations with several other platforms, and we offer open webhooks. These can provide more flexibility in the way your organization retrieves and works with your data. If your organization wants to hear more about using webhooks, you should reach out to our team and we can provide you with the details.

And we’re happy to continue integrating with new platforms — if there’s a specific integration you’re interested in, please get in touch with us!

Getting the most out of #GivingTuesday

The end of 2017 is rapidly approaching, and with that comes holidays, shopping, and something that’s likely on a lot of fundraisers’ minds right now: giving season. Giving Tuesday (November 28th), the official kickoff to giving season, has become a prominent, global day of generosity, falling immediately after big shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s the start to an end-of-year period when people are driven to give back. In 2016 on Giving Tuesday alone, nonprofits raised over $168 million globally, up a whopping 44% from 2015. And the giving won’t stop there — 30% (!!) of all nonprofit giving happens from Giving Tuesday through the end of the year. That adds up to a whole lot of groups making appeals for support on the same day, and a crowded marketplace as you work to hit your fundraising goals.

Folks tend to be feeling generous as the year comes to a close, and some have likely even planned ahead to make charitable contributions in the last month of the year. That’s why nonprofit fundraising teams should plan ahead as well, so you can have a strategy in place to reach those excited supporters multiple times during giving season, when they’re already inclined to chip in.

The more prepared your organization is, the better. If you’re a nonprofit fundraiser, you’ll find our top tips below for preparing your giving season fundraising campaign. As you make progress on your plans, we’re available to answer questions or talk strategy at AB Charities, so let us know how we can help. And if you’re not set up to use our tools yet, there’s still time — most organizations can get set up within a day or two!

  • Decide on a goal and make your donors feel like they’re invested in helping you hit it. You should focus on a measurable, realistic goal that you know your supporters can help you reach — and you should let your donors know about it! When there’s a tangible goal in mind, donors feel more motivated to give and help you succeed.

  • Outline, write, and prepare your content ahead of time. You’ll want to be prepared for both Giving Tuesday and the larger end-of-year push that comes afterwards. Having one or two emails prepared likely won’t be enough content to help you hit your goal. Take some time to brainstorm with your team and think through the different stories you want to tell and what fundraising emails, graphics, social media content, or blog posts you’ll need to get those messages across. And remember that above all, you want to tell a compelling story and incorporate urgency and emotion. Let your donors know why they should care about your work right now, why you need their contribution, and what you’ll be able to do with their donation if they give. You can also prepare thank-you text to send out to donors. AB Charities will send out a receipt automatically when people donate, but you can easily customize that language to thank your donors and add it to your fundraising page ahead of time, so every time a donor contributes they’ll receive your note.

  • Brand your contribution forms for Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday has become a way for supporters to feel like they’re a part of an incredibly large, global movement for positive change. When you brand your contribution forms to show donors that you’re asking for their support as a part of your Giving Tuesday campaign, it can help donors feel even more motivated to make a contribution that will help you reach your goals. Using AB Charities, it’s quick and easy to add a branding to your forms that fits in with the look and feel of your Giving Tuesday campaign. If you have questions about creating a branding find more info here or contact Kiersten from our advocacy team at arnoni [at] actblue [dot] com.

  • Connect with folks in your organization’s community ahead of time and invite them to participate in peer-to-peer fundraising. If you have supporters who are willing to put in a little work for your cause, you can make them an AB Charities contribution form and encourage them to organize their networks by emailing or posting on social media to help broaden your reach. Those folks who are already engaged in your organization’s work can offer compelling appeals for support by telling their personal stories or offering unique perspectives as to why your organization needs their donation. You can also get board members involved and make them their own fundraising pages, so they can keep track of fundraising goals and help you hit them. Your organization’s staffers can log in and check on the progress of the peer-to-peer and board fundraising pages, saving your team a ton of time!

  • Include a pop-up donation ask on your website. With so many donors planning on giving and researching causes they want to support, it’s common for charitable groups to experience high traffic on their websites from Giving Tuesday through the end of the year. Building a pop-up ask into your giving season campaign is a great way to meet your donors where they already are. Using AB Charities, ActBlue Express users can give easily with a single click on your pop-up. This will make it especially simple for donors who access your website via their phone or tablet — no typing in their credit card number to complete a donation.

  • Make a recurring ask to seize the momentum of Giving Tuesday and keep supporters engaged long-term. Many groups focus on bringing in one-time contributions to hit their goals, but we recommend asking for weekly or monthly recurring contributions. Recurring contributions are a great way to capture the excitement of giving season and turn it into long-term success. When you know you have a certain amount of money coming in each week or month from recurring donations, you can budget and plan ahead for the future. With AB Charities, you can set a deadline at the end of the year so donors can contribute a small amount each week from Giving Tuesday on, or you can set recurring contributions to run indefinitely every month, so you can keep the momentum going into the new year. Donors will feel invested in your work and you’ll be able to rely on a steady stream of donations even as giving season comes to a close.

Taking the steps above will help you have a solid plan in place and will set you and your team up for success. AB Charities allows you to track the performance of your contribution forms and how donors are responding to different content, social media asks, or email pitches in real time.

If you’re interested in learning more about our tools, have questions about preparing for Giving Tuesday, or want to run a test between AB Charities and your current platform, just let us know. You can drop Kiersten a line at arnoni [at] actblue [dot] com. We wish you good luck during giving season, and can’t wait to see your fundraising campaigns in action!

ActBlue Charities is HERE

*drumroll please* We’re excited to announce that charitable organizations can now fundraise using the same great platform that ActBlue has built over the last 11 years!

Organizations with a 501(c)3 designation are now able to get set up with our tools in just minutes. Contributions will be run through ActBlue Charities, the newest arm of the ActBlue family, but everything else stays the same. Charities both big and small, national and local, will be able to take advantage of our entire set of industry-leading fundraising tools, including the existing (and growing) 2.4M-strong Express user universe — that’s people who have saved their donor and credit card information and can give in an instant. By bringing our innovative tools to a whole new set of organizations, we’re hoping to add to revenue models for charitable organizations by working with them to build a new stream of small-dollar donors.

If you’re interested, you can start the setup process here.

So, why did we spend years (yes, years) working to make it possible for charities to use our fundraising tools?

ActBlue’s mission has always been to help connect grassroots donors with the causes and campaigns that they support, so they can effect change in the world. Through technology, we help break down barriers, and make it easier for Americans to chip in what they can afford to fuel change in this country. Just think of what can be accomplished if we can help thousands of charitable organizations build their grassroots fundraising base, much like we’ve done with political giving.

We’ve seen firsthand how powerful grassroots, people-powered movements can be, and we want to help charities create those kinds of movements and bring in more donations, so they can expand their capacity to do good works. And as a nonprofit, ActBlue is committed to offering those tools for free, so organizations at every level have access to the best technology possible.

There are certainly already a lot of platforms charities can use to fundraise online. Here’s what makes ActBlue a better choice:

ActBlue isn’t just a way to take in money. We’re a platform built specifically to support grassroots fundraising and the organizations doing that work. From our tools to our Express universe to our trainings, we draw from the experiences of thousands of groups fundraising with us.

How does that happen? Well, the huge volume of contributions we handle enables us to constantly improve our contribution forms with tiny optimizations that benefit the entire platform at once and immediately bring in more dollars. Donors are at the core of what we do, and we’re constantly looking for ways to make it easier and faster for them to give. The design of buttons, small layout changes, and user experience alterations can make big differences when it comes to conversion rates.

We do one thing — build grassroots fundraising software that raises organizations more money and helps them increase their capacity to do powerful work — and we do it really well. We’ve never lost a head-to-head A/B test against another donation platform.

ActBlue’s toolset is designed to scale for organizations both big and small. Everyone has access to the same features, data visualizations, and tools no matter their size. That means your small (but mighty) charity has access to the same fundraising tools as presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders.

And the other important thing to know is that we’re a mission-driven nonprofit. We partner with our clients, working together to help them reach their fundraising goals. We’re not just another vendor looking to profit off of you. We’ve been around for 11 years, helped raise over $960 million in grassroots contributions for thousands of campaigns and organizations, and built a reputation for being helpful, reliable, and innovative. There are some huge charities that are doing cutting-edge work right now, and we can’t wait to partner with them to make charitable grassroots fundraising even better.

We’re excited to be working with organizations in a space where there is room for small-dollar donor growth, and the potential to build powerful movements of all kinds. ActBlue Charities is open to any c3 organization that is willing to engage in grassroots fundraising, and whose activity doesn’t contradict ActBlue Charities’ policies and values. Those values include (but aren’t limited to) social equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, diversity, freedom of speech, and respect for scientific inquiry, discovery, and data.

Charitable organizations will pay our standard 3.95% processing fee on contributions, but other than that, every single one of our tools — including training and support — is free. We’re usually able to set charities up in a single day. No contracts, no hidden costs.

If you’re an organization that meets the criteria above, and are interested in getting set up, let us know here. If you have questions, or want to learn more about our tools you can email us at info@actblue.com.

This launch is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long learning process, and we’re excited to start working with some amazing new organizations. Together, we can make big things happen.