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Grassroots Fundraising: Goals, Tasks, and Multiple Messages

Grassroots fundraising and community development are important parts of a strategic fundraising plan. But do you have a plan? What does it look like and what does it do?

When thinking about the impact of planning, I am reminded of a curious conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where—" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat. 
"—so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

Let’s begin with a goal for your Grassroots Community Development Plan:
creating greater community support for your projects and services.

Achieving that goal involves creating and accomplishing a series of tasks; one might be to raise awareness of your organization’s role in the community; another may be building your patron base, or finding a better way to utilize the volunteers already dedicated to your success. Each task should be tied to a measurable outcome, and ultimately contribute toward the effort to raise money from people who have not supported your organization before, and create opportunities for existing patrons to support more projects on a routine basis.

Your path will vary as you develop, organize and maintain a grassroots outreach strategy. This type of planning is different from revising or adjusting your mission, and must be designed to engage the community in a meaningful, time efficient and effective way. Part of this plan should address community response: how do you recognize and utilize the successful parts of your plan, and how do you adjust the parts of the plan that underperform? The measure of success will vary among organization and among projects. Another measure of success is your organization’s ability to scale and repeat successful campaigns.

Is the secret in the mission statement?

I have seen many organizations that successfully grow, even though they share similar mission statements with other non-profit organizations, government sponsored programs, foundation-sponsored projects and/or corporate community initiatives. Though you may not be the only one providing a given service, this does not mean that only one organization will be successful raising new dollars. Rather than focus on similarities, note the things that make you unique, and use that to motivate potential donors. The tendency to believe that all organizations are competing for the same dollar opens the way for “mission creep,” when a nonprofit takes on additional tasks to look like another, more successful organization. Also be mindful of how the different funders look at your organization, and what they are looking to accomplish. There may even be the opportunity to get competing funders interested in jointly supporting your projects.

Now show me the money.

Addressing multiple messages to different audiences significantly increases opportunities.

Traditional fundraising methods have been essentially unchanged for decades. While that may provide a sense of continuity and the comfort of the familiar, it does not address the dynamic social networks in which we now live. Grassroots fundraising picks up some of the same rules used in a standard sustainability plan, but augmented to keep up with an ever-changing community: it must be flexible, easy to manage and designed to meet short term goals. The ability to manage multiple concurrent campaigns within a single project is the key to reaching different constituent groups. The key to those campaigns is dynamic messaging: you must be able to change your message to fit the audience and the moment.

But how do you tailor your message to people you do not know? Relying on a single tagline or message will limit your reach. For any given campaign, addressing multiple messages to different audience segments—each aimed at meeting their specific concerns—significantly increases opportunities for community development and support.

I challenge you to think outside the box to engage a new community of donors. Try something new. Start with small endeavors, then expand. Seek advice from someone that has experience with community development and non-traditional fundraising.

And follow these four steps:

1. Create a measureable Grassroots Development goal to increase your impact on the community.

2. Create a series of tasks that engage community members and use their time wisely.

3. Create a series of messaging taglines for each of your projects.

4. Ask people outside your organization to review them.

Wayne Miller is fundraising consultant and co-founder of Donate.net, generating improved fundraising results for hundreds of non-profit organizations and thousands of campaigns since 1998.

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