Working in the nonprofit sector is rewarding and challenging on good days and can feel impossible on the hard ones. And nowhere is that more accurate than in New York City. As of 2016, there were approximately 92,000 nonprofits in New York State, the majority of those being in the Greater New York City area. And guess what? All of them need donors in order to survive, let alone thrive.
There are 8.5 million people in the city, so finding donors should be easy, right? Plenty to go around? Well, not so fast. True, New Yorkers give $16.4 billion to charity each year, but that can spread pretty thin among competing causes. Not to mention these nonprofits are fighting for attention and money with world renowned museum exhibits and Broadway openings, not to mention the tens of thousands of incredible restaurants that already exist here.
Fundraising in that environment can feel a little like shouting into a crowded room when everyone else is shouting at the same time. Rather than succumb to the frustration, it’s up to nonprofits to rethink the way they fundraise and engage with their donor base. Working at a nonprofit in New York City isn’t for the faint of heart, but with some creativity and bold thinking, there’s tons of room for success.
It’s no surprise that when it comes to meeting donors where they are, the answer is their mobile phones. Over 80% of New York City residents own smartphones, according to the most recent research. That number is much higher than the national rates of smartphone ownership of around 71%. So, if New York nonprofits want to reach donors, they need to think mobile in every sense of the word. Overall, mobile giving has increased 80% in five years and is only going to continue that upward trajectory.
Imagine a donor checking Twitter for an update as to why their train is running late, then getting a text reminder about a fundraising campaign for a nonprofit that they have supported in the past. Or being able to easily navigate an online donation page. If this was an email or even a calendar notice, they may ignore it. But a text , online or social notification about the cause’s latest impact-inspiring campaign with a link to donate? Done. They can immediately send a donation before their train even arrives.
With what feels like a must-attend opening or event each night—not to mention long office hours and commutes—it can be tough to drive New Yorkers to a fundraising event. Donors want to spend their free time with their social circles, so why not make fundraising a social event?
Peer-to-peer fundraising allows nonprofits to take advantage of the latest social behavior, using social media in new ways and opening up new networks of donors. For example, use Instagram to host a Manhattan-based scavenger hunt or take advantage of a new Midtown hotel to host an after-work wine tasting. And, of course, encourage sharing of pictures and updates via social media accompanied by a unique hashtag. By first motivating New Yorkers to get involved and to support something (while having fun!) and then recruiting others to fundraise and help spread the word, peer-to-peer fundraising can have a year-round impact.
When building a fundraising website, consider the user experience. The commitment to the cause can be put in jeopardy it if looks like the fundraising site is from the 90s. Busy New Yorkers don’t have the time or energy to try and navigate a difficult or clunky donation site. Particularly in the Millennial marketplace, nonprofits get one (or maybe two) chances to bring donors in. A bad UX lacking an intuitive design or easy-to-use navigation can dramatically limit donations completed.
Why should nonprofits care about what millennials want? Well, 84% of Millennials give to charity, donating an annual average of $481 across 3.3 organizations. They are among the largest group of long-term up-and-coming donors the industry has ever seen. So, spend the extra time and money to make sure that the online giving experience is as easy and simple as possible.
When asked, of course most people want to be involved and want to give to local nonprofits. But they also place a high value on their time. And rightfully so! It’s a precious commodity in the biggest metropolitan area in the country. For many New Yorkers, the idea of getting to an evening fundraising gala, spending time perusing the auction tables, and listening to speeches—no matter how meaningful—just isn’t feasible more than a couple of times each year.
So why not host an online auction? This way you can capture the attention and engagement of donors no matter what’s on their calendar! Not only do online auctions save the time and expense of a cool venue (thousands of dollars in most NYC cases), it also means reaching a much bigger audience. An online event can also run for much longer than a physical one, and donors can participate at any time, from anywhere. This makes online events a much more approachable choice for donors of all ages and in all boroughs.
No matter how worthy the cause seems or how great the fundraising mechanisms are, building trust is a surefire way to keep donors engaged long term—no matter how busy they get. Use conversational language so people know the organization is real and not just another corporate machine. But even more importantly, show the impact of the dollars donors entrust. Share real stories about how a food bank in Brooklyn is feeding more people than before or how an art nonprofit in the West Village is giving street artists an outlet. Create real content that shows the impact and supporters will find a way to make time and budget donations.
There are a million opportunities to succeed in nonprofit fundraising in New York City. It just takes being willing think bigger and bolder and embracing new, creative methods. New York leads in so many industries, so why should nonprofit be any different?
If you need some extra inspiration, just check out what these New York based organizations were able to accomplish: