Just like most aspects of fund development, successful grassroots fundraising requires a combination of creativity, strategy, and clear goals. It can be tempting to brush off grassroots efforts as low-scale and low-priority. However, when an organization harnesses scalability, sustainability, and intentionality into account, grassroots fundraising becomes exactly that: the basis of fertile ground for a rich harvest and long lasting impact!

1. Scalability: The difference between grassroots and established fundraising institutions is scope and scale. We typically think of grassroots efforts as being a low budget, high effort strategy. Yet, today, we can reimagine the approach: thanks to technology, grassroots fundraising is the most accessible form of fundraising there is. Afterall, fundraising and philanthropy are fundamentally grounded in the concept of people coming together to give what they can and rally others to do the same. Modern day grassroots fundraising looks like canvassing, email blast, peer to peer efforts, digital donations and more. This means return on investment (ROI) can be throttled up or down relatively easily with the right systems in place. When we shift to think about grassroots efforts in terms of scalability, the doors flood open. Although you likely wouldn’t fund a new 20,000sqft campus through grassroots fundraising, it can still play a vital role in funding small projects, boosting reputation, identifying new donors, and beginning long-term relationships when those areas are in need of extra attention. Scalable and sustainability strategy is what grassroots is really all about. 

2. Sustainability: As Mike Spear put it, “Fundraising should exist on a continuum.” By viewing your grassroots efforts through a lens of sustainability and integration, you can convert one-off donors into recurring donors– therefore turning future pressure like “Where will we find the donors?!” into “How can we best use the database we’ve built?” One way to focus on sustainability is to keep in mind that no fundraising effort should exist in a vacuum; each initiative should roll right into the next. Create your annual calendar in a way that builds momentum. Focus on sustainable fundraising practices that will withstand the test of time. The idea isn’t to force donors on a journey of set levels to progress, but rather to establish a continuous flow of communication and engagement with only one goal: long-term relationships. 

Below is a helpful model from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) article “The Permanent Disruption of Social Media” by Julie Dixon and Denise Keyes. The vortex represents what a donor relationship focused on sustainability looks like. Rather than starting broad and slowly narrowing down to a specific need, this relationship continues to evolve indefinitely. 

3. Technology: Grassroots fundraising requires communicating with the general public (AKA potential donors you may not even know yet). In 2021, the best way to reach the most people is by going online. If you properly utilize your website, email lists, online-giving tools, advertisements, and SEO, your organization can hone in on exactly what type of stranger will come across your brand and mission– and in exactly what way. Think of the opportunities! As Nathan Chappell always reminds us: the data exists for nonprofits to make informed decisions about who they should be reaching out to. Stop wasting time on out-dated methods and use technology to your grassroots efforts’ advantage. 

4. Genuine, Transparent Persona: Last, but certainly not least. Coaching your development team to approach all efforts with authentic and transparent energy will make the first three takeaways from this chat feel almost effortless. When approaching anyone who shows an interest in your missions– be it grassroots or major gifts– be weary of coming off as pushy. Instead, always move toward a relationship. A natural, unscripted conversation about who you are, what you do, and what your organization means to your community is far more lucrative than reciting the same 3-step solicitation script to everyone you meet. Fundraising is not one-size-fits-all. Donors are individuals with unique values and relationships to money, so let’s treat them as such!

For more on authentic, personalized, and targeted efforts – Nathan recommended checking out “Responsive Fundraising” by Gabe Cooper, the Founder of Virtuous.

How do YOU approach grassroots fundraising? Comment and let me know; I love to hear your thoughts! Keep your eyes peeled for our next Wednesday conversation on Clubhouse by following me HERE.

Our bi-monthly Wednesday 9am MT/11am ET Clubhouse chats are full of robust conversation about topics within nonprofits. As always, please feel free to add and reflect on your learnings and experiences! Here’s some key takeaways from our chat about making the most out of your grassroots fundraising efforts.