5 Priority Nonprofit Fundraising Strategies for 2021

nonprofit fundraising strategies

In Part 1 of 10 Strategies to Supercharge Annual Fundraising Success in 2021 we covered five ways to thoughtfully set yourself up with infrastructure and content that will help you effectively get your most compelling case for support out to your broadest group of likely donor prospects. Now we’ll look ahead with nonprofit fundraising strategies for 2021.


  1. Craft your most relevant message.
  2. Collect and tell compelling stories.
  3. Build and maintain mailing lists.
  4. Diversify communication channels.
  5. Hone email strategy through mobile optimization.


  1. Expand monthly giving.
  2. Engage in peer-to-peer fundraising.
  3. Host engaging virtual events.
  4. Make more phone and Zoom calls.
  5. Optimize your website for donations.

Those nonprofit fundraising strategies, and the five we’ll cover today, require a strong partnership between marketing and fundraising staff. Increasingly marketing skills are a prerequisite to successful fundraising, and no one fundraiser or marketer is apt to have all the skills needed to consistently put your organization’s best foot forward. So commit this year to eliminating departmental siloes!

Work together to prioritize the following nonprofit fundraising strategies that offer a big bang for your organization’s buck:

6. Focus on Monthly Giving

Organizations who had strong monthly giving programs pre-pandemic found themselves in an enviable position, with an ongoing, sustainable source of income. This meant they could plan ahead. Chances are you have some sort of monthly sustainer program, but is it a priority strategy? Does it bring in enough revenue to see you through the rainy days? Or are there things you could do to make it do more heavy lifting for you?  

Right now, for example, you might ask donors to make time-limited commitments – perhaps just for the duration of this period of uncertainty. Even though there’s a vaccine, the pandemic-related problems people and the world are facing are far from over. Many donors will be more comfortable committing to a smaller amount given at monthly intervals right now (perhaps the cost of their weekly commute, the latte they’re no longer buying, or… get creative with your ideas). Some will be willing to commit to this in addition to their usual annual gift. I don’t generally advocate asking folks to give things up so they can give to you instead (see here); in this case, however, people have already been forced to give these things up. It’s not an either/or choice. It’s more of a “why not?” situation. So it’s an opportunity to get folks started on a recurring giving program.

Make it easy for donors to begin. Don’t just expect people to ‘find’ the monthly giving option on your website. It’s your job to guide them and let them know why this method of giving is particularly appreciated. Monthly giving is a way to turn smaller donors into larger ones (e.g., $10/month rather than $100/year translates to $120. Get 100 people to do this and you’ll easily generate an extra $2,000. Get the same folks to commit to $15/month, and you’ll generate an extra $8,000. Get 25 $1,000 donors to commit to $100/month, and you’ll generate an extra $5,000). Not only does this strategy tend to upgrade gifts, it also translates into greater donor retention. I promise, this is a program that will stand you in good stead well beyond the crisis we’re in.

Include proactive nonprofit fundraising strategies in your written plan. For example:

  • Put monthly giving front and center – maybe even on your Home Page. 
  • Include a monthly giving link to a dedicated monthly giving landing page. 
  • Include such a link as a PS in an email. 
  • Add a monthly giving button option to an online appeal or other donor communication (e.g. an e-newsletter or blog). 
  • Send a targeted appeal asking for monthly support right now so you can keep folks on payroll and weather this crisis. 
  • Here are some easy ways to boost your monthly giving.

Let’s look at some examples:

Watsi suggests, through an image and story caption, how one or two monthly donors can help an 11-year-old boy receive life-saving surgery. It’s an evergreen case for support.

nonprofit fundraising strategies

The San Francisco Marin Food Bank gets to the heart of today’s message reminding people of the unprecedented times in which we’re living. The donor knows exactly what their gift means ($50=100 meals). Plus, by pre-selecting a recommended monthly amount, they’ve wrapped in an effective ‘anchor’ strategy to persuade the donor to give more than the lowest amount. 

The Adventure Project makes a compelling pitch for monthly giving, promising a range of donor benefits and a true sense of being part of “the collective.” Most people yearn to be part of a community, and that’s something particularly important during times people feel socially isolated.

7. Focus on Peer to Peer (P2P) Fundraising

P2P fundraising gives you a twofer: (1) You amplify the power of smaller gift donors, essentially turning them into major donor equivalents, and (2) You acquire new donors you’d never have reached any other way.

Consider a $100 donor who’s been giving consistently at this level for a number of years. They haven’t responded to appeals asking them to upgrade their gift. Now imagine you recruit them to share your appeal and ask ten of their friends to join them. Suddenly they’re now worth $1,000 to you! On top of this, you now have ten new donors to add to your mailing list.

During periods when people feel socially isolated, P2P may be more attractive than ever. Whether on the sending or receiving end of the appeal, it’s a way people can connect with friends and colleagues and do something meaningful together. I’m a particular fan of DIY P2P, where you make it possible for folks to launch a fundraiser on their own initiative direct from your website. Once you get this up and running, very little work is required of you beyond sustaining compelling promotional messaging on your website. Studies show donors of every demographic say they’re willing to fundraise for nonprofits via P2P, with over 90% of Gen Xers and Millennials reporting a willingness, and almost 80% of Baby Boomers saying the same. No one does this better than Charity: water.

nonprofit fundraising strategies

Charity: water became famous for their “birthday campaigns” where people ask folks to give the gift of water in lieu of birthday presents. They’ve raised more than $9 million this way, with an average campaign generating $770. Plus they get an average of 13 new donors from every campaign. Now they’ve expanded with a whole range of things folks can do, getting people even more actively engaged in the fundraising process. Simple step-by-step instructions are provided, making this super user-friendly.

8. Host Engaging Virtual Events

The key to fundraising success is building relationships and a sense of shared community. Though it may be a while before people want to meet face-to-face, you can still bring your community together online. During times of uncertainty, people really want to know they’re not alone.

Nonprofits last year (hopefully you included) had great success with online galas, auctions and other fundraising events, but also with free events like conference calls, fireside chats, virtual coffees and cocktail hours, panel discussions, virtual performances, online classes and other virtual fundraising ideas. There are many platforms and tools from which you can choose

The key to a successful virtual fundraising event is a warm welcome, magic moments, and a fond farewell. When people remember your event with pleasure, they’ll associate this good feeling with you. 

  • Welcome: Though you can’t have greeters, musicians and balloons to greet people, think about the things you can do. For smaller events, you may be able to have things delivered in advance. For larger events, you might email a cocktail recipe; then ask everyone to join in a toast. Or maybe just ask folks to come in costume, upload a meaningful background, or come prepared with their favorite inspirational quotation. Get creative!
  • Magic Moments: This year focus on incorporating time for mingling so folks get to know their peers and feel part of a community. Prepare ice-breaker questions to encourage participation by everyone, and use break-out rooms whenever the group is too large to facilitate meaningful discussion among the entire crowd. Here are some helpful resources.
  • Fond Farewell: Even though you can’t give out sweets or swag as people leave, you might send a token thank you gift after the fact (e.g., coupon; sticker; paw print drawings; thank you from a beneficiary; bookmark, pin, magnet, etc.).You can’t have a photo booth, but what about taking screen shots of Zoom participants and sending them those photos immediately afterwards? Or ask folks in advance to send photos of themselves in their finery (maybe for a ‘best dressed award?’); then send these event pics to the group later. Or pin the photos to your Pinterest or Instagram; then send participants a link. No strategy should exist in a vacuum, and events are no exception. Don’t forget to follow up!

9. Make More Phone and Zoom Calls

Both the phone and Zoom are wonderful, personal ways to connect with folks in real time, especially during this socially distanced period when face-to-face meetings just aren’t possible. In fact many folks today, stuck inside, are feeling isolated. They don’t get enough socialization. They are actually starved for real, live human interaction and love.

If you’re a development director or major gifts officer, you’ve probably been told you should get out from behind your desk more and go make donor visits. Today that translates to using your voice and body language, not just your typing fingers! Schedule more virtual coffees and use this time to get to know your supporters better. That’s what builds lasting relationships – an absolute necessity if you want folks to stick with you through thick and thin.

10. Optimize Your Website for Donations

Is it clear from your home page you need philanthropic support? If you don’t make this obvious, you may lose out on a lot of potential support. Some organizations even fail to have a noticeable “donate” button, while others fail to take advantage of the opportunity to tell an emotional story through compelling photos, stories and video.

Is your website up to date? You don’t want it to be static. When you change up the content on your home page periodically you look fresh, relevant and trustworthy. This also gives you the opportunity to have your messaging meet the moment. Many nonprofits in 2020 added content describing their response to the pandemic and issues around diversity. Many also added campaign messages to their home page during specific points in time (e.g., at the end of the calendar year; for specific campaigns during other parts of the year, and for targeted ‘giving days’). Consider now what you might do today and in the coming year.

Jewish Family and Children’s Services described their services during the pandemic, made it easy for people to contact them for help, and encouraged donations to an emergency fund as well as volunteer service. Specific projects were called out as being especially relevant right now.

nonprofit fundraising strategies

Opportunity Fund turns the focus of their lending programs to small businesses affected by Covid-19. When you click the “donate” button, the donation landing page continues to make a current, relevant case for support, noting: “we ensure that small business owners—particularly those who are people of color, women, and those struggling with low income—can access the fair and affordable capital they deserve.” 

Don’t just focus on your home page; also make your donation landing pages compelling and user-friendly. You don’t want anything to cause a potential donor to hesitate mid-way through the process of making a gift. Alas, this happens all the time. In fact, ask your IT staff if they can tell how often folks “abandon their carts” without finalizing their donation. Here are problems to avoid:

  • Message on landing page doesn’t match message of link from which they were sent (e.g., home page; email appeal link; social media link; text message link). This makes people think they’ve landed in the wrong place. Common examples are: (1) Appeal for monthly giving goes to annual donation landing page; (2) Appeal for special campaign goes to generic donation landing page, and (3) Appeal for major gift goes to small gift string landing page.
  • Landing page doesn’t take advantage of opportunity to both show and tell. Consider adding a video, compelling photo and/or a brief story. 
  • Form asks for too much information. If the donor has limited time, or they’re doing this from a smart phone and don’t want to do a lot of typing, they’re not going to appreciate a long form. Also, if your form asks for information the donor would rather keep private, this will deter them. A good guideline is “If you don’t need it, and are unlikely to use it, don’t ask for it.” You can always ask for this information after the donor makes a gift.

Honestly, this last strategy around your website is HUGE. Too many fundraisers simply don’t think about this at all, leaving anything to do with the website to marketing or IT staff. Yet a non-donor-centered website or landing page can absolutely tank your fundraising campaign. Please, please, please… prioritize working together with other staff to assure the donor experience is seamless and even joyful. Donors should feel good when they make a gift!


If you want to be more successful this year than last, begin by reviewing what worked and what didn’t work so well. Evaluating past nonprofit fundraising strategies with a critical eye will set you free. It’s easy to fall into a status quo mode, yet that’s seldom a good idea. It’s an especially poor idea during times of rapid change.

In the heat of responding to crisis, you may have picked the wrong things. Or maybe they were the right things, but you did them the wrong way. Or now that you’ve been through this, you could imagine ways to do things better. Or maybe you’d been due for a change even before the events of this year slammed into your nonprofit like a hurricane, firestorm, street uprising or pandemic. 

  • Focus on selected priority nonprofit fundraising strategies in 2021 and you’ll raise more money than ever before. There are more choices, of course, but the 10 highlighted in this pair of articles will stand you in good stead.
  • Remember to begin with a written plan that spells out where you’re headed with each strategy, and how you’ll know you’ve been successful. 
  • Recruit key stakeholders to sign on to your plan, as successful development’ (marketing and fundraising) is a team sport.

Once you’ve planned your dive, dive your plan. As management guru Peter Drucker says: “The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.” When you put your plan in writing, and recruit other stakeholders to hold you accountable (and vice-versa), that’s when you develop the proverbial ‘well-oiled machine.’ This will stand you in much better stead than an old jalopy that’s constantly breaking down and being patched together. Make sense? To your success!

Nonprofit Sustainability

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.

Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad

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