Three steps to raise unrestricted revenue while motivating donors with specific offers

Fundraising does better when it’s focused on specific action — one thing the donor can do by donating. Dramatically better.

But most of us, most of the time, need to raise unrestricted funds.

It’s a real conundrum. Unfortunately, the common solution is to raise that unspecific money with unspecific fundraising.

Which leaves quite a lot of donors cold and uninterested. And leaves a lot of revenue on the table.

I have good news for you. You can do both things at the same time. Talk about specific projects or offers, and raise unrestricted funds — at the same time.

There’s no magic, no sleight of hand, no ethical gray areas.

According to a prominent accountant who specializes in nonprofit accounting issues (who asked to not to be named — you know how accounts are), doing these three things make your appeal unrestricted:

  1. Somewhere in your message, include a sentence (one or more) like this: “Your gift will not only help with this project, but it will also help in many other ways. We work with all kinds of children all over the world, and your kindness makes is possible for us to help each one.”
  2. In the action line on the reply coupon includes a phrase like “… and other places/projects…”
  3. Have a policy about what to do when you raise funds beyond those needed for any given project — and display it somewhere that donors can find, such as the back of a reply device. Your policy might be something like this: “In the case that funds exceed the project described here, we will use the money where it is most needed.” (Your policy may be different — this is just an example.)

According to common accounting standards, doing these three things “unrestricts” the funds you raise from the project where you do them. These things have been shown in wide experience not to depress fundraising results.

If you want to “unrestrict” your funds even more, here’s something you can do:

Include a check-box on the reply device near the asks: “Please use my gift where it’s needed most.” This allows the donor to go ahead and expressly unrestrict her gift. In my experience, a majority of donors check this box. And the beauty part: Adding this choice often increases response. Not dramatically, but meaningfully.

The good news is that you don’t have to choose between great results and impeccable ethical standards.


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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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About the blogger

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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