Direct Action Fundraising: What It Is and How to Use It

One of my favorite things to do at The Fundraising Authority is present unique or off-the-wall fundraising ideas to non-profit leaders to help them come up with creative ways to support their organizations.

Today’s topic, direct action fundraising, isn’t necessarily a unique way to raise money – many non-profits have done it successfully over the years.  However, many non-profits don’t think of this form of fundraising as its own unique method, and because of that, have never thought that this method for raising funds could work for them.

What Is Direct Action Fundraising, Anyway?

Have you ever seen a “sponsor-a-student” program, a fundraising letter that asks you to pay for a certain item, like a mosquito net or a desk in a classroom, or a TV ad that asks you to “send $30/month, or $1 per day, to pay for food for an entire family for a month”?  If so, you’ve seen direct action fundraising.

Simply put, “direct action fundraising” is a method that asks prospects to take a direct action with their donation, and that ties their donation directly to an item, service or action.  Donors are told that if they make a gift, they will provide a specific service (like clean water for a town or a scholarship for three students), or a specific item or items (like food for a family for a month or a mosquito net for a child in Africa).

Why Does Direct Action Fundraising Work?

This fundraising method works because donors like to know what their money will be used for.  Asks that show a clear benefit to an underserved population get donors emotionally involved.  Direct action fundraising also builds donor trust because it shows your prospects that you understand your costs, know how much it will take to make a difference for each person, town, school, etc. served, and are willing to directly tie the ask to an action you are promising to take with the funding.

What Makes Direct Action Fundraising Unique?

As I mentioned above, direct action fundraising isn’t, strictly speaking, “unique.”  Thousands of organizations across the world have used this method of fundraising with varying degrees of success over the years.    What I want to do today is to make sure you understand that direct action asks aren’t reserved for schools and social service agencies.  Direct action fundraising is a method of fundraising, like telemarketing, events, and direct mail.  What I hope you will do, today, is ask yourself how your non-profit could use direct action asks in its own efforts.

What Types of Non-Profits Can Use Direct Action Fundraising?

Almost any non-profit can use this method.  In order to do so, you will need to break down the service you provide into bite-sized chunks.  How much does it cost to provide each chunk to each person or group of persons you serve?  What do you need funding for that you can “sell” to donors for $100, $1,000, $10,000 per unit served?

Make sure that if you use this method, you don’t raise money you don’t need in lieu of money you do need.  Remember, you are promising your donors that you will use the money you raise through these asks for certain items or services.  If you need to raise $100,000 over the next three months for overhead expenses, but your services are covered for the rest of the year through the grant-writing you have already completed, you probably don’t want to launch a direct action fundraising campaign – instead, you want to work on annual / general fundraising.


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