6 Expert Sales Strategies Nonprofit Fundraisers Need to Steal

By Tatiana Morand, Content & SEO Manager at Wild Apricot by Personify

You might think that your fundraising work is worlds away from that of Fortune 500 sales professionals. You’re cold-calling in hopes of a double-digit gift, while they’re landing six-figure deals over a boozy lunch.

But if you’re dismissing the strategies they’re using, it might be time to take another look.

You both have the same task: convince your prospects that your mission is a good investment.

So, before you pull your hair out trying to think of new “viral” fundraising strategies, take a look at how sales pros successfully pitch their products and consider how this could translate into funding for your organization.

1. Make It Personal.

Research has shown that consumers prefer personalized sales experiences. With so many analytic tools available, individualized recommendations have become the norm. Just think of the way Netflix curates “Recommended For You” selections based on your viewing history.

Mailing out stock donation envelopes doesn’t cut it anymore. Your donors and supporters expect communication that shows you’ve taken the time to get to know them.

That doesn’t mean you have to send handwritten notes for every gift. Instead, identify easy things that you can customize a bit more.

Possible Actions:

  • Use personalization fields (merge tags) to address donation letters and emails.

  • Send individualized welcome and thank you emails to new donors.

  • Handwrite thank you letters at major donors. Affirm their sense of importance by including specifics about the use of their gifts.

  • Create drip email campaigns to ask donors questions and elicit replies. Drip emails can be triggered by actions or criteria in your database to make them seem like personal inquiries.

  • Look for commonalities and create targeted segments. Let’s say you work for a literacy organization and realize that 10% of your donors and members are licensed educators. Why not send them unique volunteer opportunities perfect for teachers? Figure out how to leverage their common experience for your organization’s benefit.

2. Go Beyond Your Direct Connections.

A survey by LinkedIn found that consumers are five times more likely to engage with a sales professional if an introduction is made through a shared connection. In your case, this could mean asking your current donors to invite their friends and families to a fundraising event or encourage your current followers to share a post about a new campaign.

Possible Actions:

  • Start a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign via your current supporters to grow your network.

  • Look at your executive leadership team’s LinkedIn connections and make a prospect list.

  • …And then move to your board and do the same!

  • Create content for your board members to post on their social media feeds. For example, ask them to share a link to a blog post or event announcement.

  • Familiarize yourself with the community through local chambers of commerce and networking groups. Learn who might want to help your organization.

  • Introduce yourself to local media outlets. Offer to write articles about the nonprofit sector or mission-related issues.

  • Pay for your leadership staff and board chair to attend a few key events, such as trainings, conferences, or even other fundraisers. This allows them to network with philanthropists and other nonprofit leaders in the community.

3. Be Confident.

Another essential way sales professionals build trust is through professional competence. They speak with conviction about the products and services they’re offering.

We know that people, unfortunately, perceive nonprofits as dysfunctional or financially unsound.
As a result, you may face an uphill battle when speaking about your organization’s stability and success.

Possible Actions:

  • Refine a succinct and clear elevator pitch, and professional and consistent branding.

  • Train your employees and board members to give statistic-backed responses to questions.

  • Equip your employees and board members with case study examples that prove your organization’s success.

  • Prepare a 5-10 year strategic plan that can be shared externally. This shows you’re confident that you’re in it for the long haul.

4. Try Out This Tactic.

It seems counterintuitive, but some of the most successful sales pros encourage customers to explore competitors.

While it may feel terrifying or downright foolish to lead potential donors away from your organization, this type of honesty shows you’re so confident that you know they’ll ultimately choose you.

More importantly, it shows that your primary concern is the mission, which will reassure your prospects.

This may mean discussing the other organizations in your area that have similar programs. This openness lets prospects know that you have a mission-first mindset. Potential supporters will appreciate that you care about the greater good, not just the good of your particular organization.

(But hopefully you’ve sold them on why you’re the best option!)

Possible Actions:

  • Understand others in your nonprofit niche.

  • Develop your value proposition so you can effectively compare and contrast your organization with others.

  • Foster and emphasize collaborative partnerships with other nonprofits, so it’s clear you’re willing to share resources if it leads to greater impact.

5. Think Outside the Box.

When it comes to fundraising, it feels safe to play to the audience we already have a relationship with. However, creating new donors is necessary for organizational growth. Businesses are always trying new ways to expand their market share and reach new populations.  That means taking risks and allocating resources to new products or novel marketing approaches.

For your nonprofit, this might mean investing in online outreach to engage younger donors or trying a new theme or venue for your annual fundraiser.

Who knows… you might find a huge new base you didn’t know existed!

Possible Actions:

  • Dedicate a small portion of your budget to experimentation.

  • Track results in terms of cost-benefit as well as engagement and retention.

  • Try out a few different fundraising ideas.

6. Less Is More.

One of the most important characteristics of a successful sales pro is tenacity. The same goes for a nonprofit fundraiser.  

You’re probably accustomed to being hung up on and just picking up the phone with a smile on your face and trying again and again… and again.

But some sales pros suggest backing off and giving the prospect some space. When it comes to donation calls, less can be more.

So, equip your prospective donors with everything they need to know about your organization within the first couple of touchpoints, including ways to give. After that, the ball is in their court.

This strategy has two benefits: they’ll feel empowered, and you’ll be freed up to pursue other new supporters.

Possible Actions:

  • Prepare call scripts, sponsorship packages, and presentations that include a clear expectation of follow-up communication and call to action. (i.e. “We will send you an email and follow up in a few days.”)

  • Donors can also feel empowered by a challenge. A recent study shows that creating fundraising challenges (for example, saying “A generous sponsor has committed to give $1000 if you and your coworkers raise $2000 by the end of the month”) can positively influence giving. These types of fundraisers appeal to humans’ competitive nature and makes donors feel urgent and integral to the operation.


At the end of the day, a top sales executive and a fundraising manager aren’t that different (although the beverage selection may be a little better at one of their offices...).

To get yourself started, think of something you were recently compelled to purchase and consider what made you make that decision. How can you evoke that same feeling or experience for your potential donors?

Start thinking like a sales pro, and it might just pay off.