Here's a cool idea from the NTEN Blog: Say "No" to Money (to Make Money). Goes like this:
Set an ambitious but not unachievable target, and vow to your donors that unless you hit that target in the allotted time, you will return all the money raised so far. Every single cent.... By opting into the 'conditional giving' or 'in it to win it' strategy, it has been proven that your donors are more likely to rally ... and come through for you. They know exactly what is at stake, and they won't let you down.
I think that's great. It does what fundraising so often fails to do: Make it clear how urgently and specifically each gift is needed.
But I'd change it in a small way: If we failed to raise the total needed, I'd go back to the donors and ask them if they want their money back. (Assuming the promise to give it back wasn't integral to the offer in the first place.)
Having made the decision to give, who wants the money back? From talking to a lot of donors, I get the sense that the key moment of most charitable gifts is the giving. Not the purchase of the equipment that results. Sending back the gift could be just being a pain. You mean I have to figure out what to do with that money again?
And then extend the idea: What if a certain project you've raised funds for gets over-funded? Go back to those donors (or maybe the ones who gave after the need was funded) and tell them they can have their money back. Of course, you can offer them the choice of re-allocating their gift to something similar (which you could make the case for) or even unrestrict it.
My guess: The vast majority don't want their money back, but really appreciate being asked. Some will be moved to give an additional gift. And most will become more connected, committed, and generous than they were before.
Donor-respecting actions that would clearly demonstrate that not only does their money matter, but their opinion too. That's when fundraising becomes a whole new thing.