Ellie Burke
Ellie Burke
9 min
Woman working on fundraising page on desktop screen

How to Quickly Cover the Cost of Your Fundraising Software

When it comes time to make an investment, it’s important to consider the potential return before you proceed. Fundraising software is one such investment that is essential for social impact organizations to enter the modern age. But the right software comes with a price tag. Before you move forward, you need to be sure you’ll not only make that money back, but have the necessary tools to scale your development revenue.

By doing just that, Classy client Kentucky YMCA Youth Association raised over $31,000 in online donations just a few short weeks after launching their first campaign.

To learn how they made such a quick return on their investment, we sat down with their director of outreach and innovation, Derek Summerville, and operations coordinator, Starla Whitaker. Below are critical pieces of their strategy that raised considerable capital right away.

How It Started: A Broken System

The Kentucky YMCA Youth Association runs youth-in-government and youth leadership programs for approximately 8,000 middle and high school students each year. In the last few years, their Y-Corps program has grown from around 50 kids per year, to 100, to now over 230. What’s unique about Kentucky YMCA’s fundraising is that students raise money for the opportunity to participate in the very personal development programs that benefit them.

To support their growing program, Kentucky YMCA knew they needed the right tools in place. They needed a system that would not only make their jobs easier, but allow fundraisers to easily adopt the platform and succeed.

In previous years, student fundraisers sent in checks that they received to the organization. While it worked for a period of time, it was hard to keep track of everything and Kentucky YMCA needed a new way to better engage their fundraisers and donors if they wanted to raise enough money to support their growth.

When they first moved their fundraising online, they ran into trouble keeping their branding and storytelling consistent.

Image of Starla Whitaker, Operations Coordinator

We wanted our message to be unified. Before we had an online system, our students were using GoFundMe and we weren’t able to tell the story of the Y accurately. Everyone had their own personal page that we had no control over. It came across as disjointed and it didn’t tell the story in the way we wanted to tell it.

Starla Whitaker
Operations Coordinator

After GoFundMe, Kentucky YMCA tried another online fundraising platform. But they struggled to pull reports and leverage data from this system. Each report required their staff to complete a large amount of analysis, eating up valuable time that could have been spent on mentoring fundraisers.

Quick Set-Up Meant Quick Returns

When Kentucky YMCA decided to invest in Classy, they were able to get on the platform and launch a well-thought out campaign in just six weeks. There was even time in this short period to address Derek’s concerns around their branding needs.

Unlike previous years, where their message was disconnected and inconsistent across fundraisers, Kentucky YMCA was able to control the message from page to page and create beautiful donation, campaign, and fundraising pages that all tied together cohesively. This consistent communication not only accurately told their story, but it also created a valuable sense of trust with their audience.

“Classy allows us to make our story compelling even more than [our previous platform] ever did.”  – Starla Whitaker, Operations Coordinator

In addition to their ability to swiftly launch their campaign, Kentucky YMCA was also able to get their fundraisers transacting much more quickly than in previous years.

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The Fundraising Strategies That Covered the Cost…and Beyond

To quickly recover the cost of their investment and raise enough money to support the growth of their development programs, Kentucky YMCA focused on one thing: their fundraisers.

Their efforts built an army of students who were motivated and empowered to use Classy to achieve their goals.

The following tactics are just a few of the many ways Kentucky YMCA supports their students through this fast-paced fundraising process:

1. Vet Your Fundraisers

Because of the nature of Kentucky YMCA’s programs, the organization uses an application process to better understand their potential fundraisers. By asking participants to answer a few questions ahead of time, they get to know who will be raising money, and they can also gauge if someone is serious about getting involved.

While this extra step might not be applicable for every nonprofit, consider how you might apply a similar element to your own approach. What if you followed up every new fundraising page with an automated email that asked the fundraiser a few pointed questions? These learnings might help you quickly address any hurdles and let the supporter know that you’re serious about partnering with them to achieve their goal.

2. Raise the Stakes

Part of what makes Kentucky YMCA’s fundraising efforts so successful is that there is something personal at stake for their fundraisers. If the fundraiser doesn’t meet their goal, they can’t participate in the program.

Even if your organization’s programs aren’t directly connected with your fundraisers, you can provide a connection for them that incentivizes them to succeed. While raising money to make a difference is rewarding in its own right, your fundraisers will be motivated even further if they feel like they have skin in the game.

One way to tie your fundraisers to their personal results is to set benchmarks that equate to sought-after prizes. Raise $1,000, get concert tickets and the VIP treatment. Raise $5,000 to meet the band after the show!

3. Run a Boot Camp

Many nonprofits use boot camp style trainings to quickly get their fundraisers up to speed and ready to rake in the dough.  Kentucky YMCA hosts three 75-minute workshops for their fundraisers.

For the fundraising component, the 75 minutes are split into two sessions. The first teaches them how to use the Classy platform, and the second focuses on fundraising best practices. Fortunately, according to Starla, “Classy is so simple that we don’t have to teach them very much.”

While their boot camp is a more formal working event, they work hard to make it as fun as possible for the students.

They review things like:

  • How to creatively make appeals
  • Whom to ask for donations
  • The different methods of asking for different groups of people

They also equip their fundraisers with helpful resources that they can refer back to, such as this instructional video tutorial.

Kentucky YMCA attributes much of their fundraisers’ success to the functionality and ease-of-use of Classy’s platform. They believe part of what makes the platform so easy for their fundraisers to adopt is its similarities to a social platform. In this sense, it’s easy to approach and pass along.

For example, when asked about their top fundraiser to date, Starla responded,

He’s raised over $2,000, which is $800 more than his goal—and he’s able to do that because of Classy. He acknowledges, ‘It’s just so much easier for me.’ And, honestly, the kids couldn’t sing the praises of the simplicity of this process more. I literally had to stop them from talking about it so that I could go on to teach the lesson, which is just incredible because over the past few years when we were with [our previous platform], they were confused constantly. We were going in and resetting passwords for them and setting up things for them because they couldn’t do it.

Features such as custom URLs, social sharing, and the ability to personalize each fundraising page have also “revolutionized the ease of getting their pages out there,” according to Starla.

By arming their fundraisers with intuitive tools and fundraising know-how, these classes quickly set the tone for the supporters’ entire experience and pump them up for the road ahead.

4. Use Data to Motivate

To maintain a sense of excitement throughout the entire fundraising process, Kentucky YMCA uses data updates as a source of ongoing motivation.

With Classy, they can quickly view several key metrics that spur fundraisers along. According to Derek, he often will refer to the percentage of transacting fundraising pages, or the total number of donors to drum up excitement.

For example, he updates the group on social media about specific milestones with messages like, “We’ve got 70 percent of our pages transacting, can we get to 75 percent?”

These types of updates provide small pushes for fundraisers to keep moving forward. And while Kentucky YMCA’s team often socializes these metrics, the fundraisers have visibility into their own too.

Image of Starla Whitaker, Operations Coordinator

Not only is [Classy] great for me and Derrick and all of the numbers we want to run, but when a student participant or anyone else in our future campaigns looks at it, they can see, ‘Here’s what I need to do.’ Classy does that math for them and I think that’s just so incredibly beautiful and simple.

Starla Whitaker
Operations Coordinator

5. Leverage Captains

To keep energy high, it pays to have some help. While your staff can set up automated emails and touchpoints to send your fundraisers, establishing team captains further develops a hierarchy of support.

Kentucky YMCA uses captains to help monitor the progress of fundraisers on Classy. These captains send out individual emails to their team members based on their progress and the data they have access to through the platform. If the fundraiser is ahead of their goal, the touchpoint is a note of encouragement. If they’re falling behind, the captain asks how they can support that fundraiser to achieve their goal.

Kentucky YMCA also maps out a helpful timeline so that everyone knows at what points in their fundraising journey they should be hitting certain milestones. This gives fundraisers and coaches a way to monitor progress over time and understand what it means to “keep on track.”

6. Provide Progress Reports via Classy Emails

In addition to updates sent out on an individual level, Kentucky YMCA also creates messages that are sent out to the entire Y-Corps group. These email blasts keep everyone in the loop on the progress of their collective work. In this way, fundraisers get a pulse check that let them know how they compare against the entire group, and how they might encourage each other.

Kentucky YMCA sends these emails through the Classy platform. They find that these engagement rates are actually higher than messages they send out via other email platforms. While they’re still digging into the effectiveness of their approach, they attribute this ability to shoot messages right out from Classy as a contributor to their overall success.

Beyond Short-Term ROI

Kentucky YMCA knew that in order to serve as many students as possible, they would need to invest in that success.

Quote graphic

To raise more money, the organization needed to first inject money back into their systems. And when it came to assessing ROI, Starla explained,

“We’re paying for the product, and we’re making that up not only in money we’re raising, but also in getting a mission statement out there that is correct, cohesive, and beautiful.”

The return they saw outside of financial gains was invaluable.

Our return on investment is not just in dollars, it’s in the fact that it takes seconds to see numbers, seconds to find an answer. And students like it more—we like it more.

Starla Whitaker
Operations Coordinator

For Kentucky YMCA, ROI meant dollars raised, but also time and dollars saved. Even smaller features, like the ability to have a donor cover the cost of a transaction fee, all rolled up into the their return.

Whenever your organization considers making a similar investment in your systems and procedures, Kentucky YMCA lastly recommends,

“Look at how you want to talk about your mission. Look at how you want something to feel…You’re going to find that Classy is the hope that lets you tell your story and share your mission, and they are more supportive of who you are as an organization than any other fundraising platform that we’ve encountered. Trust me—we’ve spent hours and hours looking at every single option on the table.”


  • Pete L.

    I am curious about the model of rewards for reaching fundraising goals. Is this to be treated as income for the individuals doing the fundraising? (with all the fun things associated with that, like paying taxes)

    • Ellie

      Hi Pete, thanks for reading! In this case the reward of going on the trip is not treated like income for these students to my knowledge. The money they raise is collected from many individuals. You may find this post on quid pro quo donations helpful: https://www.classy.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-quid-pro-quo-donations/ please let me know if that does not address your question.

    • Derek Summerville

      Great question, and no this isn’t income or anything taxable on the students’ end. Y-Corps is paid for by our YMCA, and the program itself is free to students. Their fundraising goes entirely to our scholarship fund as a 501c3. Our Y-Corps teams work together so that if a teammate falls short of a goal, the team can help meet our overall goal!

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