04/19/2016 11:41 EDT | Updated 04/20/2017 05:12 EDT

6 Free And Easy Fundraising Hacks For Non-Profits

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As the former executive director of an NGO, I know that the non-profit sector can be just as competitive as the private sector. Your organization needs to stand out like never before. The difference between the two sectors quite simply is that the private sector normally gives customers something directly in return for their money.

As a non-profit leader, however, when you solicit a donation you are re-directing the money to a social cause and giving your donor a tax receipt at most. You can try and spin it how you want, but the bottom line is that donors are only as altruistic as much as their socio-economic circumstances allow. A majority for the most part give because of their emotional connection to the cause, but that is only as long as they have additional income to give in the first place.

According to Brian Emmett, an economist with Imagine Canada, "Less Canadians are giving, and less young Canadians are participating. That's a bit troubling."

How does a non-profit survive, despite challenges to sustain/grow donors regardless of economic trends?

Let's say you're the leader of an established organization and you want to assure an annual increase of two per cent, you should set your sights on a three- to four-per cent goal to account for any shortfall due to unforeseen circumstances.

Here are some cost-free recommendations backed by success in the field:

1. Private Sector and Foundations.

The private sector is a wealth of untapped potential in respect to donation dollars. It is increasingly competitive to seek out major gifts from private sector organizations, and the key is capitalizing on current relationships and building personal relationships with senior executives of such organizations.

Corporate social responsibility and partnerships strategies, automated payroll donation options and employee volunteer opportunities are some examples of low-hanging fruit which can provide alternative sources of revenue and volunteers when needed.

2. Public Sector.

Your government will likely provide grants and significant funding for your project/organization, especially if it sets out to solve a major current challenge. A simple Google search of grants and government funding for your cause should be able to highlight what is available. A grant-writer is normally helpful in these situations, so hiring a good one with a proven track record of securing major capital grants is critical.

You could also expand the application process if your project is international in scope and pursue funding from international foundations like the UN Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others.

3. Adopt A Project.

If your organization runs projects, you can have donors sponsor the full amount or portion of that project in exchange for giving them recognition or branding on that project. This is the method used for hospitals; whenever there is a new wing sponsored by a wealthy person or family it is named after them to carry on their legacy.

Another successful example is Free the Children's Adopt-A-School program providing donors with the ability to have a school named after them and a tangible example of their donation in action.

4. Enhance Targeting and Stewardship Strategy.

A special focus on donor targeting both regionally and demographically can assist in saving staff time, make solicitation processes more efficient and increase fundraising success. A greater focus on enhancing stewardship will reap higher yields from donors who understand that your organization wants to build a relationship with them.

5. Create an Ambassador Initiative.

In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, President Obama raised a record $600+ million due to an innovative fundraising strategy. Through volume alone, the small donations added up significantly, and since donors who donated at any level felt that they were a part of creating actual change, they told their friends who gave what little they could.

Your donors are an opportunity to not just sustain growth but have it grow exponentially. If a donor is passionate enough and equipped with the right tools once they donate to an organization, they become an impromptu ambassador for that organization and given enough guidance, can encourage their colleagues to do the same.

6. Enhanced PR Strategy.

Large non-profits have communications teams that take care of this, but if you don't there is potential to garner massive grassroots support with an enhanced PR strategy. By featuring senior leaders within your organization at large-scale events such as TED conferences and the Clinton Global Initiative, for example.

There, the profile and specific work of the organization can be organically highlighted, leading to greater awareness. Greater awareness leads to an increase in supporters ,and thus dollars. By also focusing on raw video footage from field workers and physicians on the ground, there is phenomenal potential to build further donor loyalty.

Apply these strategies successfully and I've seen organizations increase their growth substantially. Best of all, they're free! For more ideas and leadership coaching for nonprofit leaders visit

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