The Core Four

Core four.

“We want to raise more than 1 million dollars each year from our individual donors.  What should we do?”

That, my friend, is a great question that more small nonprofits should be asking. 

We were curious, so we looked at our clients that had broken the “raise $1mm in a year from individual donors” barrier.

This post shares the four strategies that had the largest effect.  And how using all four strategies at the same time had a supercharging effect…

Optimized Events

They professionalized their events by having a tighter schedule, fewer people on stage, a tighter script, and left the “we have to convince people to give” thinking at home.

Perhaps most importantly, they changed their content strategy.  The first thing they did was to figure out what the ask would be for, and then designed the content of the event to make the ask as powerful as possible.

They raised more money at the event, and their donors had a better time.

Strategic Major Donor Systems

They installed a proven system to manage their major donors.

Major donors were identified and ranked, relationships were cultivated, and the right amount of time was spent on the right donors.

The systematic approach retained more major donors year over year, and lifted more major donors to higher levels of giving.

More Donor Communications

They increased the amount of fundraising sent to individual donors beyond what they previously believed was possible

They saw that they were not going to grow into a larger organization until they embraced one of the key behaviors of larger organizations: communicating more often.

And they started raising more money every year.

Segment Appropriate Messaging

They embraced the wisdom that different audiences should be communicated to differently.  So they spoke differently to a Foundation, and differently in an email to individual donors, and differently to a long time major donor.

This caused consternation among staff, but the organizations started raising more money.

The Flywheel

Those four strategies work together like the proverbial “flywheel” to accelerate growth…

  • Because the event is optimized, more people come back the next year, plus more people invite their friends.  So there are more people at the event, and they tend to give more because the event is well constructed…
  • The major donors are identified, and then systematically cultivated, so the organization has a growing major donor file…
  • Because segment-appropriate messaging is used, each piece of fundraising raises more money because it’s relevant to that audience…
  • Because there are more donor communications, the organization raises more and retains more donors…
  • This leads to more donors going to the event… and the circle continues.

To show you what it looks like when it all comes together, here’s the event performance for an organization that we began serving in 2016:

Gross revenue chart.

Impressive, eh?

Virtuous Circle

Those are the “Core Four” strategies that, working together, create a self-reinforcing virtuous circle that helps organizations experience crazy growth.

Which of the Core Four could your organization improve at? If you’d like help, send an email to  Or go here to see how we help organizations like yours!

The Squiggle


What you’re looking at is called “the squiggle.”  It was created by Damien Newman to describe the product design process.

I think the squiggle pretty well describes most people’s fundraising journey, too.  Moving from left to right, all of us…

            Start our journey careening wildly to figure out how fundraising works…

                        We begin to develop an understanding of how it all works…

                                    We understand and refine our practice.

It’s good to remember that we all go through the beginning chaos. 

For instance, ten years ago we had a client who had met their budget for the year by Thanksgiving.  Their Board asked us, “Since we’ve already met budget, shouldn’t we stop fundraising for the year?  And since we won’t be sending our year-end letter, could we mail it during next summer when we will need the money?”

After some internal snickers… we had a great conversation with the Board.  Because of that conversation, the Board moved to the right on the squiggle.  They’ve continued to learn and have become an incredible fundraising asset to the organization.  (And they are still a client today.) 

They just needed a little help from someone who was farther along on their fundraising journey.

In my own career, I’ve written about when my mentor asked me, “Why are you writing about the organization?”  That was a moment of insight and I moved closer to the clarity and focus I have today.

I mention all this because we’re ALL somewhere on the squiggle.  And the longer I’m on my fundraising journey, the more compassion I have for people at the start of theirs.

So in the spirit of passing it on…

If you’re in the Uncertainty / Patterns / Insights zone, what’s one thing you are doing this year that will help you move forward?

If you’re in the Clarity/Focus zone, what’s one thing you are doing to help another Fundraiser join you out there?

And wherever you are, are you compassionate towards the others on this journey with you?

The “Research,” “Concept” and “Design” labels on the bottom of the original graphic were removed to keep the point as simple as possible.  Thank you to Damien Newman for allowing the graphic to be used on the Creative Commons license.

Crossing the Chasm

Messaging Approach

There’s a surprising parallel between fundraising and selling technology products.

I found it in Geoffrey Moore’s famous book from 1991, Crossing The Chasm.

The graphic above is a direct “translation” from a graphic featured in the book. Except in this case I’ve made it about fundraising, not about selling tech products.

One of the main theses of the book is that the messaging used to attract “early adopters” will not work well when trying to attract what’s called the “early majority.” And technology companies miss this all the time because the company itself is filled with experts and early-adopters.

Sound familiar?

Doesn’t that “rhyme” with how the messaging nonprofits use in the early years does not work well when trying to achieve their next level of growth? And how nonprofits miss this because the nonprofit itself is filled with experts?

I know the graphic above takes some thinking about, but I’ve never seen a clearer picture that illustrates how the donors at your organization’s next stage of growth are different than your current donors – and therefore will likely require different messaging and tactics to be acquired.

Of course, this isn’t true for all organizations. But in my experience it’s true for a) smaller organizations who aren’t growing as fast as they’d like, and b) organizations whose growth has plateaued for many years.

If you think your organization is having a hard time crossing the chasm, keep reading this blog and check out Work Less, Raise More. The copywriting practices and communications strategies we help you with are exactly the types of things that help organizations cross the chasm.

And if you’d like Better Fundraising’s help crossing your chasm, take two minutes to fill out this form! We’d love to chat.

Remember: your organization is perfectly designed to raise what you’ve raised this year. If you’re looking for breakthrough growth, you’re probably going to have to start doing something different. And recognizing that is the first step.