11 Top Tactics For Nonprofit Growth In 2014 (And Beyond)

By eleventy marketing group

Nonprofit professionals share tips and tactics for growing your organizationAt last month’s FundRaising Success Virtual Conference & Expo, eleventy group’s own Angie Moore moderated two interesting and informative panel discussions. The first session (which we detailed in this recent eleventy blog post) tackled the topic of nonprofit watchdog groups. The second session, which we’ll discuss here today, took on the more general topic of nonprofit growth and survival tactics.

The session “Top Survival/Growth Tactics for Nonprofits in 2014 and Beyond” featured a variety of professionals from both the nonprofit and agency sides. These experts shared their thoughts and suggestions on how nonprofit organizations of every size and mission can thrive moving into next year—and the next decade for that matter.

In today’s post, we’ve highlighted some key takeaways from the discussion on how your nonprofit can grow and flourish in the coming year.

Top Tips for Nonprofit Survival and Growth in the New Year

What are the things that you believe organizations should be focusing on to grow? That’s the question Angie asked to kick off this nonprofit discussion. She received a variety of responses from the panel of professionals. Here are excerpts from their responses, organized by topic:


“The phrase that pays for the past few years has been retention, and rightly so. Retention needs to continue to be a key metric that we all pay attention to, and strive to improve upon. But if we don’t have anyone new to retain than we’re not going to thrive. So don’t cut acquisition, and if you did then add it back.”

Ellen Cobb Church, CEO, Craver, Mathews, Smith

Direct Mail

“You need to be testing. And I’m not talking about tweaks to your creative. I mean test your message, test your package, test seasonality. Constantly. You should have multiple control packages and multiple list plans to go with those.”

-Ellen Cobb Church, CEO, Craver, Mathews, Smith

Fundraising Letters

“One of the things you should try to do is get that high-school English teacher editor out of your head. You’re not trying to get an “A” on this paper. You’re not writing a composition. You’re not going to submit it for a Pulitzer Prize. You’re only goal in fundraising letters through mail is to raise funds. It’s not to educate people on the intricacies of your cause. It’s not to do all these other things, which are good communication tools. If you’re writing a fundraising letter, it’s a lot less confusing to a donor if you just keep it to raising funds.”

Marc Pitman, Founder, Fundraising-Coach.com


“I would suggest that everyone grab five people tomorrow—five random people at your organization—and just ask them the simple question: Why should anyone give their money to us? You may be surprised at some of the answers. But hopefully you’re going to get some really great specific ones. Because your donors need really great, specific reasons to give.”

-Ellen Cobb Church, CEO, Craver, Mathews, Smith


“I think it’s really time for a lot of organizations to set a new benchmark—specifically for their mid-level groups, but this really applies to everyone. For many of the organizations that we work with that have a robust mid-level program, or one that’s in transition, we’ve created seven super KPIs [key performance indicators] that we apply to the mid-level audience…”

*For reading purposes, we’ve condensed Kristin’s response here. To hear Kristin explain each of these indicators in detail, please listen to the full conference session.

**It’s also important to note that all of these KPIs apply to the specific audience, program or audience segment you want to benchmark.

The first four are all performance-related:

1. Average response rate across the year

2. Gifts per year per segment member

3. Annual average gift

4. Annual value per audience member

The next three are related to investment and return:

5. Annual cost per audience member

6. Annual net per audience member

7. Annual ROI  or  annual cost per dollar raised

“Those seven metrics put together are absolutely a complete snapshot of your mid-level or frankly any high-level donor program. If you benchmark that now, and potentially even look back for the last three years, you’ll know how you need to change things in the future and where you need to steer your ship to have the real growth opportunities you’re looking for.”

Kristin McCurry, Principal, MINDset direct

Monthly Giving

“Not only is monthly giving important to the growth of organizations, I think in the future it’s going to be important to the survival of organizations. Why is that? Because monthly donors have a higher retention rate and a higher long-term value for the organization… The short-term investment you put into a monthly giving program is absolutely worth the long-term net growth.”

“I would encourage people to start experimenting with monthly giving asks in all of their channels. And for organizations that are not advocacy organizations or (c)(4) organizations where size matters, I would also encourage people to experiment with a monthly giving primary ask or a monthly-giving-only ask approach.”

Dane Grams, Director of Direct Response, HRC

Online Advertising

“Create targeted ads that give people a reason to click through. The most important part of that sentence is give people a reason to click through. It doesn’t always mean give or donate. It can mean offering them an inexpensive premium or a call to action that requires someone to give you their email and home address so you could immediately put them into your conversion program.”

-Ellen Cobb Church, CEO, Craver, Mathews, Smith


“Think big. Think very big. And work backwards. Look at the organizations either within your sector or within sectors that you admire the way they market and communicate… Look at an organization you’d like to be like, or how you’d like to see yourself grow over the years, and pull back to the areas that have the most opportunities for you… Look at what the best practices are and figure the best bang for your buck. “

“One of my mother’s favorite sayings that I think absolutely applies to small nonprofits: ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’… Take a minute to evaluate the opportunities that are handed to you. See where that fits within an industry that’s already got a lot of best practices.” 

Jo Sullivan, Executive Director, Save the Chimps

Professional Development

“All too often in nonprofits, we as staff members and boards and leaders feel we just have to produce, produce, produce. And we never take time to do the metric check testing to see if the production is worth it; or just take the time for a staff retreat, professional development, going to a conference, attending a virtual conference. I think that’s the stuff that keeps us sharp. It helps us cross-pollinate ideas.”

-Marc Pitman, Founder, Fundraising-Coach.com


“We know that retaining donors is less costly. We also know that people give more to [organizations] where they’re involved, that long-time donors are more likely to consider a planned gift or ultimate gift. So always be looking for opportunities not only for donor retention but to engage your donors as volunteers, as advocates, for the organization no matter what your cause or your geographic reach.”

Jeff Jowdy, Founder and President, Lighthouse Counsel

Social Media

“Your social media strategy should be as well thought out and planned and tested as every other part of your fundraising and communication plan. When you sit down to create a fundraising strategy for a program or a campaign, everyone should ask themselves: What do we want our friends and their communities to share, like, tweet, post, pin, retweet, text, check in, forward, Digg, Reddit, upload, download, publish or in any other way participate with us on this campaign?”

-Ellen Cobb Church, CEO, Craver, Mathews, Smith

Thanks to Angie, FundRaising Success and this panel of nonprofit professionals for all the great insights! You can listen to the “Top Survival/Growth Tactics for Nonprofits in 2014 and Beyond” conference session in its entirety by registering on the FundRaising Success website. This content will be available on demand until December 16.