My Top 5 Tips to Building a Successful Fundraising Program

Category: Solutions Strategies

What inspires you to fundraise for Plan International Canada? / What do you admire about Plan International Canada?

Prior to starting at Globalfaces, I oversaw the acquisition program at Plan International Canada, a leading not-for profit dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls. One thing I am often asked in my role as Vice President, Marketing and Donor Engagement is ‘what does it take to build a successful monthly donor fundraising program’? While I acknowledge that every not-for-profit has their own unique strengths and challenges, there are a few key elements they all have in common and that apply to fundraising in general. 

Given my experience on both sides of the industry and what I have learned along the way, I am able to apply these learnings from a unique vantage point. I thought I’d share the top 5 things I’ve learned that are critical to the long-term success of any fundraising program.

  1. Create an annual fundraising and marketing plan.
  2. Be nimble – try something new every year. 
  3. Collaborate internally. 
  4. Integrate, integrate, integrate.
  5. Create a first-class donor experience. Hint – it begins before you say ‘hello’.

1. Create an annual fundraising and marketing plan

Your organization has a mission and programs to support that mission. It also has a budget to support that mission. Your fundraising strategy is your plan for generating recuring revenue that makes your mission possible.

It’s critical to have targets and a well thought out plan of how you will hit or exceed those targets. Make sure it’s documented and that everyone understands it. Your strategy is your roadmap to success. I’ve built many complex strategies over the years and there are a few key components to keep in mind and questions to ask yourself along the way.

  • Do your goals ladder up to and support your organization’s objectives?
  • Are they realistic? Can you achieve them? Do you have stretch goals when you get there?
  • Do you have these 4 key components: objective, goal, strategy and measure of success?
  • Is your plan diversified? In other words, don’t have all your eggs in one basket.

2. Be Nimble – try something new every year. 

While marketing budgets are tight within the charitable sector, you don’t have to break the bank to try something new. A pilot or A/B test is sometimes the best way to determine if you have a winner, be sure to track your results before and after. You never know when the next pandemic is going to hit (let’s hope not!) and force us all to pivot.  At Globalfaces we rolled out telefundraising, digital lead gen and our Virtual Fundraiser a great tool to accompany any online campaign or event.  

We need to have diversity in our programs and that test you’ve been working on might turn out to be the answer. As long as it doesn’t jeopardize your program, give yourself permission to fail and learn from it. This was a key lesson I learned in my years of building successful programs, and I was lucky to have had a CEO that supported and encouraged innovation.

3. Collaborate internally.

No man (or team) is an island.  This is never more true than when it comes to launching any project within your organization. Leverage one another, build on each other’s strengths and work together. Whether you build out formal cross-functional teams, or just have a bi-weekly check-in, everyone has a key role to play, something you may not have considered until you sit down and collaborate. This helps to builds bridges so that when you are ready to tackle a new project you’ve forged relationships that can help you launch and hit your goals in a timely manner. If I take door-to-door as an example I relied on my donor care team to support donor calls, my IT team to support the transfer of donors, my donor operations team to load donors in our CRM, my Finance team to reconcile the donors and send tax receipts… you get the idea!

4. Integrate, integrate, integrate.

Building your brand and fundraising go hand and hand.  Every time a donor or potential donor hears or sees your brand, it’s making an impression of some kind. The old adage that a person needs to hear about something 7 times before they buy, isn’t necessarily true but the point is still valid. And whether they are buying or donating the same philosophy applies (the exception may be if they have a personal connection to your cause). Outbound telemarketing or face-to-face fundraising teams have a much greater chance of success if the people they are speaking to already know who you are and understand your cause. A great example of integration is to have a unified message across all your campaigns (such as out of home, digital, telemarketing, face to face and outbound) which ties them together and references them to each other. This builds credibility and doubles the impact for your organization. Fun Fact: Our Globalfaces fundraisers on average speak to 75,000 prospective donors a week.

5. Create a first-class donor experience. 

The donor experience starts long before you acquire that donor. It starts when the person hears about your organization for the very first time. It could be through a digital ad, out of home media or that very first hello at the door or on the phone. Every touch point matters, and not every touch point needs to be an expensive, well executed direct mail piece.  Sometimes an SMS can speak volumes if it’s the right communication at the right time. This works even better if you have donor segmentation that breaks up your donor base into personas (but no more than 4). While personas might not be feasible for every organization due to cost or CRM limitations, the idea behind it everyone can execute on.  Provide a nice variety of touch points and ensure you are having the right conversations based on their individual characteristics and demographics. You need to make a personal connection. Ultimately you can’t go wrong when you wow and thank them for deciding to donate to your cause.

There are so many great fundraising campaigns, ideas and tools out there waiting for you to explore. We know we can’t do it all. Be realistic about the goals you set, and the tests you try. No matter what you do, or how you plan out your fundraising program, if you always keep your donor and your cause at the forefront you will be off to a great start.


Carolyn Soro

Carolyn Soro is a marketer and fundraising specialist with over 10 years in the non-profit space, having run successful campaigns at Plan International Canada and UNICEF Canada for many years before coming to Globalfaces to become VP of Marketing. Now Carolyn heads up all our social efforts and works with multiple charities to provide guidance on campaigns and stewardship efforts.