5 donor-friendly ways to raise unrestricted funds

If you haven’t already noticed this, you will eventually:

Donors are way more likely to give to do something specific than to give you money just to keep your wonderful organization going.

Problem is, you really need unrestricted funds. To do all the boring stuff like keep the lights on and fix the copier — the stuff that actually makes your organization effective.

Worse yet, your large institutional funders (foundations, government, etc.) often give tightly defined restricted funds. That leaves your individual donors holding the bag for the boring unrestricted funds — the stuff that just doesn’t “sell,” because it’s hard to make it sound like that’s how you change the world. Even though that is exactly how you change the world!

So how are you going to serve donors and still raise the unrestricted funds you need in order to keep operating? Here are some approaches you might take.

1. Donor negative option

It’s the check box on the reply device that says something like Use my gift where it’s needed most. It allows the donor to look beyond the topic of the appeal at hand and unrestrict their gift. A large percentage of donors will choose this option every time.

2. Donor positive option

Make it clear you’re raising unrestricted funds, but include a check box that says something like Please use my gift exclusively for this project. If they don’t check it, the money is unrestricted. Most donors, most of the time respond well to choice.

3. Blanket disclaimer

This is the common solution, used by most catalog fundraisers so they can sell all kinds of specific items without getting boxed in spending way too much on bunnies (or whatever is the most popular item in the catalog). They say something like All gifts are symbolic and help fund the entire work of the organization. That lets you off the restricted funds hook, and most donors are okay with it. Speaking personally (and not about donors) this option feels a little sleazy to me.

4. “Permission unrestricting” after the fact

You raise specific restricted funds, then if you raise too much for your needs, you go back to donors and ask them if you can redirect their gifts. Several large organizations have done this after major disaster where they raised more than needed for the disaster at hand. This is a very donor-honoring strategy. And honestly, how many donors are going to say no? The risk of losing revenue is low.

5. Promote the advantages of unrestricted giving

Unrestricted gifts may be un-sexy, they’re important. Why not tell your donors that? It’s a complex left-brain offer, and giving is a right-brain decision. But you may have a group of donors — most likely major donors — who could love to do this.


Comments

2 responses to “5 donor-friendly ways to raise unrestricted funds”

  1. This is very timely, and something we’re currently wrestling with. One approach we’ve looked at is to ‘bake’ all of our overhead and operational costs into all of our program budgets, because the reality is that we need these costs to run our programs. We clearly communicate this in our breakdown of how much each program costs to run, and how much we need to raise for each child to receive services. That way, if someone donates specifically to a program, a portion of that is still going to overhead/operations.

  2. This is very timely, and something we’re currently wrestling with. One approach we’ve looked at is to ‘bake’ all of our overhead and operational costs into all of our program budgets, because the reality is that we need these costs to run our programs. We clearly communicate this in our breakdown of how much each program costs to run, and how much we need to raise for each child to receive services. That way, if someone donates specifically to a program, a portion of that is still going to overhead/operations.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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