There is a saying in real estate, "The three most important words in selling a property are: location, location, location." In fund raising that word would be "marketing."
Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of using secular concepts in ministry. Those same individuals probably feel asking for money is either beneath them or somewhat evil.
Marketing is basically raising awareness of people about a product. In our case ministry is the "product."
So how do we get people to think about your ministry?
There is another adage I heartily endorse, "Out of sight, out of mind." Most people are visual creatures. "What you see is what you get" works on many levels. If a person sees evidence of your ministry they have a much higher chance of getting involved and supporting your work. So remember to make your material visually appealing. IE: photographs.
Many ministries make one basic mistake: they assume people read. I realize people know how to read they just don't like to. Most brochures have way too much information. One buddy put it to me this way, "If it's longer than I can read when I go to the bathroom it's too long." I think most people are similar. I'm sure you've also heard, "A picture's worth a thousand words." Ask yourself this, would you rather look at a picture or read a thousand words? So make sure you design your marketing campaign with visuals in mind.
Your first order of business is your newsletter. This is the primary way your supporters keep up with your ministry. I am a huge advocate for the monthly newsletter.
The only thing harder than reading is writing. Many of my partners consider the newsletter the hardest thing they do each month because it is so labor intensive. I have some thoughts on this process.
Keep it simple! You must communicate with sponsors and potential partners regularly. If your newsletter is too complicated to produce you won't do it.
Keep it regular! I mail out a three page newsletter every month. Without fail. You should too.
Keep it graphic! I write one story for the first page. The other two pages are made up entirely of pictures with a caption. Focus on close ups of individuals and small groups. It is an art form to get good pictures. Have the person look straight at the camera. Make a big, ultra happy face and your subject will usually mirror that emotion.
Avoid the candid wide shot that "gets all the action." It may give information but usually evokes no emotional response. It's the close ups of two or three kids looking straight at you with big smiles that makes you feel all warm inside. Sponsors support people not programs.
Your camera may be the most important tool for marketing your work. It's important that you understand its limitations. The single biggest mistake beginners make is they stand too far from their subject. Get in close! Focus on the waist up. Be aware that the flash may over expose what you're shooting. With experience you'll be able to tell what the picture will look like.
It's important that the contrast is correct or the picture won't look right when you photocopy it. That means you don't want too much difference between the lightest and darkest areas in the photo. For example you would never shoot a dark skinned person with a light background.
To make your newsletter stand out you may consider copying it onto colored paper. Avoid darker colored paper (especially red) because it's too hard to read. I like the pastel colors for my copies. I normally only print on one side of the paper because many of my partners post the letter on a bulletin board.
For a thirty seven cent stamp on a regular business size envelope (always buy self-stick!) you can include three 8 1/2 x 11 pages plus a small donation envelope. If you're going to pay for postage you may as well get the bang for your buck.
Be aware of what I call the "slickness factor." I have not found a relation between the glossy, three-color, professional looking newsletter and funds raised. This is what I've heard, "I wonder how much this cost to print?" and "Did he spend all his time producing this?" People prefer to hear from you more often even if it doesn't look as "professional."
Most of my stories focus on the evangelism work going on in the missions, but don't be afraid to share your frustrations as well. When things are going badly I remind my partners, "That's why they call it missions. . . If it was easy everybody would do it."
Once a year I do a family issue and focus just on pictures of us. Your supporters aren't just praying for your work, they're praying for you!
I believe it's important that you personalize each letter. I write a short note at the bottom of the front page. Something like, "Howdy, John! Thanks for your prayers! Love, Tim" I believe those little notes are what makes the difference between your ministry and others. People get a very different feel from a ministry that cares enough to do more than send out one letter to everyone.
It's important to set up a regular schedule for your mail out. When do you pay your bills? Once a month? Every two weeks? If a sponsor is writing a check to your ministry they will probably cut yours at the same time. Therefore, your team needs to hear from you then.
Here's my schedule:
I make sure I have the pictures I need for that month's edition by the 24th, I also buy whatever supplies I need (paper and envelopes, etc.), get the labels printed and stuck on the envelopes.
I write my article and paste up the pictures on the 25th.
The 26th is my day to make photocopies and begin writing my notes.
The 27th I put the newsletter in the mail. You want your supporters to have your letter in their hands at around the same time they pay their bills.
I rarely if ever ask for money. What I do, however, is include a donation envelope. Your goal as a fund raiser is for your supporter to put that little envelope with their other bills to pay.
Once a year I do a "sheep and goat" issue. I keep detailed records each month of who makes a donation and for how much. In January I check everyone on my mailing list. If I haven't heard from them in a full year they receive an additional page which says,
Yes, I want to stay on the team. Please send me the Outreach Updates each month.
Yes, I want to stay on the team and I include $5.00 to help pay for postage and printing.
Yes, I want to stay on the team and I pledge $ ____ monthly/one time gift.
No, thanks. It's not necessary to reply.
NOTE! This is the last Outreach Update you will receive unless I hear from you. Stay on the team! We need your help!
Think about it, do you receive material from organizations that you care nothing about? It costs the ministry around $5/year per person--not to mention the time it takes to write a short note. Notice that the person really only has to invest .37/year to keep getting your updates. My feeling is if they don't have the will to send that form back in they really don't care if they receive it or not. I think it's reasonable to shoot for 80% participation from your team.
About four years ago I was writing around 450 individual notes a month. I had never written a "sheep and goat" issue. I thought the more I sent out the more I would get. Finally, I sent the note. I dropped over 200 people and my giving went up! So give everyone a year to stay on board, after that make them commit one way or the other.
It should also be noted that if the person does donate during the year they immediately qualify for another year. I don't make them send anything in and they never see the options page.
Around Christmas/end of the tax year I move my schedule forward. My supporters receive the note about November 24th (nearly a week early) then again on December 15th (two weeks early). That gives supporters plenty of time to make the end of tax year deadline.
I also send a small gift in that December 15th issue. Postage goes up that month. I go back to my donation list and set different levels of gifts. Perhaps I give one set of gifts for those who have given under $50 and another for those over $100. If I haven't seen anything from them that year they don't receive a gift. That is the same group that is targeted for the February "sheep and goat" newsletter.
When I first started raising money I heard a lot of "no's." I also heard many "yes's". Over time I realized it is important not to take the no's too personally. Sometimes people just don't have the budget to support you. Maybe later they will.
After the regular newsletter I consider the prayer card the highest priority. I use Creative Plus to make my prayer cards. The best deal is to get 1,000 and get them on postcard stock. They're sturdy and look great. It's the best bang for the buck. When I'm at a church I hand them out like business cards. I consider it a home run if I end up on their refrigerator. I can almost be guaranteed that they'll pray for my family many times over. Check out their web site for more info.
I always have business cards. It's essential that you carry those with you. I hand out usually four a day. Get used to handing them out. Leave them wherever you go. It's amazing how God can use that simple networking to great advantage.
This is the internet savvy generation and after having a newsletter, prayer cards and business cards your next order of business is a web site. There is no reason why you can't have a simple web site. I have both coded HTML and used Front Page. I think Front Page is a great web design tool, and since it's a Microsoft Office product it's already somewhat familiar. Just use a template, fill in the blanks and there you are!
There are many sites that will host you for free, Geocities being one of the best. Your ISP probably offers some web space just because you have an account with them.
Remember how important I said photographs are to carry your message? I've recently started using a picture/video server called Smugmug.com. For about $25/year you can store an unlimited amount of jpegs. I use the Smugmug.com site as a sister site to the .org site. It has a home page and is broken down into various categories such as "Family," "Missions," "Outreach Events," and "Nature." Each of those is further broken down into more specific categories such as "Christmas Party at Azalea Place with Mt. Zion, Snellville." I highly recommend you take advantage of such technology and regularly store all your newsletters/pictures on your web site(s).
No amount of technology will ever substitute for the good ol' fashioned hand shake and a smile. The best way to market what you're doing is to make regular rounds of the people interested in your ministry, or those like yours. There's no short cut to this, it takes TIME. So it's best you get started right away. As Jehovah told Moses in the desert, "Quit praying and get the people moving." This is the time for bold action! Be known for your passion and people will reward you with their support, both in time and in material resources.
Get a plan, stick with it and work it.