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Donor Engagement

How to Raise Money for a Homeless Shelter

How to Raise Money for a Homeless Shelter ExactAsk Fundraising

Non-profit fundraising is some of the toughest but most rewarding work there is. Employees at shelters may be in close contact with their clients around the clock, which isn't the case for many other organizations. Because the work doesn’t offer many breaks to focus on support activities like fundraising, it’s important for shelter staff to be able to make the most of their time and resources. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you grow your fundraising efforts.

Make The Most Of Existing Donors

As with all non-profits, it's important for homeless shelters to maintain a healthy relationship with their existing donors. Many organizations focus heavily on making inroads with new donors, and assume existing donors will continue to give consistently. Unfortunately, the latter isn't always the case, and certainly isn't a foregone conclusion. Existing donors are the easiest group for you to motivate into giving, since you’ve already built a connection with them. They have chosen to give in the past, so you know they are engaged with your mission; there's no reason why they shouldn't be willing to give in the future, but they will almost always need a little push.

One way to ensure you're giving your existing donors the attention they deserve is to shift away from campaign-based attribution models and towards a system based on donor lifetime value instead. Under the campaign-based attribution model, each donor is only as valuable as their last gift. With donor lifetime value, you're looking at each donor as a person and trying to grow their value to your shelter over a long relationship. Donors are expensive to acquire; getting someone on your list and eliciting that first donation takes time, effort and money. Each successive gift from them strengthens your relationship and further amortizes your acquisition costs.

Maximize Your Marketing

No matter how important your shelter’s work is, fundraising success is invariably tied to how well you’re able to communicate that message to your giving audience. It’s always worth doing some routine maintenance on your marketing efforts, and finding ways to improve the effectiveness of your fundraising. Campaigns advertising to new and existing donors may differ in what they are trying to accomplish, but many of the considerations remain the same.

The internet has fried most people’s attention spans, so it’s more crucial than ever to have a clear message that gets straight to the point when you're asking people to donate. They want to connect with you and the story you're sharing, but they don't want to read a ten minute article to get there.

You also want to be sure you're targeting your donors with effective ask amounts that show your commitment to building a lifelong relationship with them. Asking for too high an amount turns people off and makes them think the small amount they could give isn't good enough, while too small an amount leaves money on the table, and could even signal that you don’t need the donation they may have been ready to give. Asking too frequently can become irritating very quickly, but not asking enough can cost you revenue that donors were ready to give. Customizing the ask amounts you send your donors can help to make everyone feel valued and ensure you’re getting the most value out of your relationships.

No matter how small your shelter is, it’s possible to leverage technology to build a comprehensive, highly functional donor database you can use to power all your fundraising efforts. Using CRM software can help ensure you're managing your communication with donors holistically, and support the development of long, healthy giving relationships.

While your organization may not have the resources required to dedicate an employee specifically to social media or blogging, you should try to cultivate at least a small digital presence. Post on a few social media networks two to three times a week can vastly increase your digital visibility, adding to the effectiveness of your refined messaging and donor-centric fundraising efforts.

Keep An Open Mind About In-Kind

It takes more than just money to keep a homeless shelter running. Of course, monetary donations give you the most flexibility to direct your resources where you need them, but only accepting money and disincentivizing in-kind donations can cut you off from valuable resources.

It's important to clarify what exactly items you do need in order to minimize wasteful donations. If you have very specific requirements for what kind of in-kind goods you can accept, speak up! Even if all of your messaging makes it clear that financial donations are your organization's first choice, it's good to have publicly available resources for in-kind donors to ensure that what does come in the door is usable.

One way to drum up fresh donor enthusiasm as well as reach new audiences is to hold drives for specific items. You can still encourage financial donations and earmark that money for that specific type of item, but many people just really love the idea of shopping for body wash, bed linens, or infant formula, and dropping it off in person. As an added bonus, you get to thank them in person and tell them what a huge difference their gift will make.

Refresh Your Events

Many organizations have become a little stagnant when it comes to events. If you've been hosting the same handful of events every year since anyone at the shelter can remember, it may be time to think about whether the events are as successful as they could be, and whether you might benefit from changing it up next year.

Sometimes when you host the same events year after year, it's easy to settle into the way things are always done and stop looking for cost-saving measures. Having new people look at the event budget or just taking the time to talk to new vendors can help you trim the fat and find savings where you may not have been able to in years past.

Even if the events are really working, there may be space to improve your fundraising performance by trying something fresh. Take some time to consider the demographic makeup of your event attendees. If there's a group you're not reaching, think about why and what you might be able to do to reach them. If you're hosting two events that are very similar in style, e.g. two black tie galas, think about consolidating those and hosting something radically different like a 5k race or a family picnic. You may end up finding a new favorite for your donors that encourages them to give more than before, or you may find a whole new group of donors that are excited to participate in a different type of event.

Partner Up For Success

Strategic partnerships can be incredibly meaningful in the non-profit world. Figuring out who can help you and how might be as easy as reaching out to your most trusted volunteers and donors and asking what connections they have. If you're lucky, potential partners may just show up at your doorstep, but often, you'll have to do the legwork.

Forging corporate partnerships can be extremely helpful when it comes to securing steep discounts on the supplies your shelter needs on a regular basis. If your organization is a 501c3 or similar type of non-profit, corporate partners may see value in the the tax write-off’s their in-kind donations create. It may be worth developing some marketing materials specifically focused at attracting this kind of partner in your local area.