Your small fundraising team can do big things

Your small fundraising team can do big things

First, a confession.

I’ve been a fundraising copywriter and consultant for more than a decade now. And I’m not going back!

But I do remember struggling to raise money, wearing too many hats, and dealing with leadership that just didn’t get it. Small fundraising teams can be tough.

And honestly, that’s a big reason why I’m not going back. I did my share of banging my head and crying on the way home.

Now I speak to fundraisers – like you, maybe – who are still struggling. Most, part of smaller teams, tend to focus on size as the reason for their stress.

But I think it’s way more involved than that.

And size can be a strength as well. Here are some ways you can shine.

Treat every donor as if they matter. They do.

Small donor list? That’s ok! Use it as a benefit. You have the chance to communicate in a personal way with every donor. (Or at least make it feel personal… more on that later.)

Get the “small” details right. Send well-personalized appeals, thanks, and newsletters – or newsy letters.

If you have a question about a donor’s personal information, ask them! If you wonder how they prefer to hear from you, ask them! Then make sure you follow up with the correct information.

Don’t conflate “professional” with “big”. You don’t have to hide your size. Donors don’t care, so long as they feel like they’re accomplishing something that matters. Make sure they do!

Keep your data sparkling clean!

With fewer names on your list, you can make keeping information up to date a priority. Make sure information is entered properly, to begin with. (If you’re depending on an intern or volunteer, spend the time to train them properly and check on their work until you’re sure it’s right.)

Spend the time on this upfront, so you don’t have to spend hours fixing a spreadsheet before you send out a mailing. (And yes, I know you’re working on that at home after hours… you don’t love doing that, do you?)

But some tools are available even in a small shop: like variable text. It’s not hard to insert. And if you’re printing in-house, you can easily make sure it’s working right before anything leaves the office.

Hand-made is closer to the heart


Don’t obsess over how perfect your mailings look. An occasional typo may even help more than hurt. It’s what you say, and how easy it is to take it in that matters.

You don’t have to sound important, either. Please don’t try. Sounding human is more effective.

And with a smaller list, you can take the time to add human touches that organizations with larger lists can only appear to add. Like handwritten notes in the P.S. or in the margins.

Anything you can do to make donors feel seen will improve your results. Because we all want to feel seen.

My first donor newsletter was based on a Microsoft Publisher design, written by me, and printed on our office printer. It didn’t look professional. But it raised more than some appeals.


And let’s talk email for a moment. It can be very effective. But unless your particular nonprofit has found differently, it’s still not as effective as mail. So use it, but don’t give up on mail.

(Really tiny organization? No money to mail? Ask board members to help put the mailing together. And have them bring a couple of books of stamps with them! It’s good bonding time with your board, and they feel closer to your work.)

You can make your email look terrific, even if you’re small. But format for easy reading more than pretty. And remember, just as those handwritten touches add to your mail, something that looks like it was emailed to one person (the donor reading it) from one person (the person signing it) will probably do better than all the pretty.

Personal wins

I once made a “mistake”. For reasons too puzzling to explain, I wasn’t allowed to send emails to the organization’s email list. Something about “then they’ll unsubscribe!” 🙄

So I sent an email from our Executive Director’s email address to the donors who had given me their addresses. No formatting back then. No pictures. Just an email as if he had sent it himself. (And he did, since he read and approved it all!) We raised a good amount of money, including an unexpected foundation gift. Personal matters!

Give monthly giving your attention

This could be as simple as making sure you have a good offer for why it furthers the mission (NOT why it means you raise more money). And ask, with every appeal. Make sure it’s an option online as well.

The people who say yes will be few at first. But this is where dogged determination comes in. Keep at it. You’ll start to see it add up. And these wonderful people who opt-in are people you’ll want to pay attention to as well. They’re raising their hands. They really care.

Don’t reinvent every wheel – upcycle instead

So you’ve written an appeal. It has everything it should have: a great offer, a moving story, lots of asks built-in, easy to read, and easy to respond to.

But you need to write an email now, right? Not really. Use that appeal to write a few emails. Make it a series. You don’t have to rewrite – just repackage and rephrase a bit.

Then… take those emails and use them to create social media posts.

Or, maybe you’ve decided to create a welcome pack or email series. Good idea! But you don’t have to reinvent that wheel, either. Use a few of your recent newsletters. They already have great stories showing donors their impact, right? And these are new donors – so those stories are fresh.

Small fundraising team and a small budget?

Keep reminding the powers that be that fundraising isn’t a cost. It’s a profit center. And it takes investment.

Don’t jump at the “cheaper” alternative. (Like self-mailing newsletters, only one annual appeal, or no direct mail.) Focus on the long term. Adding and keeping donors takes time and money. It’s a smart investment.

You are also a smart investment. Fight for your worth!

Is your organization tiny? Unless it doesn’t need donations, investing in you makes sense. If you lead the team (or are the team) how you’re treated and paid matters. Turnover hurts fundraising results because fundraising is about relationships. And those take time.

If fundraising matters, then fundraisers matter. And both are great investments!

Photo courtesy of Gratisography