6 Fundraising Myths—and Why They’re Wrong

By John Egan

Myths abound in every industry, and nonprofit fundraising is certainly no exception.

On the surface, a lot of myths can be fairly harmless. But if you firmly believe a fundraising myth, it could damage your nonprofit.

At the 2018 Washington Nonprofit Conference, Feb. 21 to 23 in Washington, D.C., three professionals will help bust some common fundraising myths: Laura Connors, vice president of membership at the National Parks Conservation Association; Kerri Kerr, chief operating officer at Avalon Consulting Group; and John Perell, director of direct response and shared services at the Smithsonian Institution.

Here are six myths that you should banish from your fundraising manual.

1. Big data isn’t for us.

Do you think big data is only for the for-profit business world? Think again.

According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, nonprofits big and small can benefit just as much from big data—or, more specifically, the analysis of piles of data to come up with trend and strategy insights—as their for-profit counterparts can.

Big data might enjoy a higher profile among for-profit businesses, the association says, but thanks to big data, “there are some great fundraising organizations performing campaign optimization techniques and targeting analytics.”

“These organizations began just like any other fundraiser, donation by donation. But where they are ahead in the game is in their understanding of their data potential,” the association says. “Their investment in the data tools they need have helped them become the best fundraisers for their cause. It may be a more gradual process for nonprofits to invest in such tools, but it is important to take the steps to understand your data and how you can benefit from it.”

2. Big data is too difficult to handle.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals emphasizes that you need not become a data scientist to take advantage of big data.

“Your job is connecting with donors and bringing in more donations, not sitting down with statistical software to do extensive evaluations of all your donor data,” the association says. “Reach out to a vendor who can help you further improve campaigns and help you to understand these valuable insights while keeping you up to date on the data trends in fundraising.”

3. A fundraising plan is useless.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. As noted by fundraising consulting firm Wild Woman Fundraising, a fundraising plan can propel your nonprofit to the next level.

“When you plan, then people get things done on timelines, and there are measurable outcomes and results. Suddenly, people are accountable,” Wild Woman Fundraising says. “So, this is something you need to work on if you want to take your nonprofit to the next level. If you make a fundraising plan, even if you never look at it again, it will definitely help you fundraise all year round.”

4. Mobile fundraising is only for big nonprofits.

This myth can be debunked by merely considering today’s broad availability of mobile fundraising tools.

In the past, options for mobile fundraising were limited, says Fundly, a crowdfunding platform. These days, text-to-give technology is within reach of all nonprofits.

“Now, regardless of the size of your nonprofit, you can take advantage of mobile giving to raise money for your cause at all of your events,” Fundly says. “Text giving has become even more accessible for organizations of all sizes because of its affordable price and quick turnaround for receiving funds.”

5. Direct mail is dead.

Wrong! Direct mail is alive and well, and it continues to deliver results in nonprofit fundraising.

According to Lawrence Direct Marketing, direct mail remains the “heavyweight champ” of fundraising outreach—ahead of online methods like email, search engine marketing, banner ads and social media.

Among other reasons, direct mail performs well because it’s highly targetable, relatively cheap and “completely trackable,” The Fundraising Authority says. On top of that, research shows the vast majority of giving is still tied to direct mail, not online avenues.

“Most organizations cannot produce the revenue needed for their programs with online fundraising alone,” Connors and Avalon Consulting’s Allison Porter said in a 2016 presentation.

6. Millennials are the key to fundraising success.

Actually, according to Connors and Porter’s presentation, donors under age 40 don’t respond well to direct marketing appeals. Generally, revenue figures and response rates for donors age 40 and over are better than for donors who fall into the millennial category. Furthermore, the pool of available young donors is comparatively shallow.

“The long-term value of millennials does not compare to that of older donors—the upfront cost is too much to offset with future revenue,” they said.