Productive Fundraising: It’s Both WHAT You Do and HOW You Do It

Productive Fundraising: It’s Both WHAT You Do and HOW You Do It

Productivity is a two part process.  It requires the perfect balance of efficiency and effectiveness.  It’s not only the outcomes that matter, but also the process for reaching those outcomes.  It’s both WHAT you do, and HOW you do it.

The WHAT

As a professional fundraiser, there is a constant temptation, and sometimes expectation, to try to raise funds every way possible.  The suggestions come from everywhere:  articles, blogs, conferences, etc.  My favorite is the “helpful” (and insistent) board member …  “I’m involved with XYZ organization and they just held this great event that raised a lot of money, we’re going to do that too!”  Don’t get me started on non-strategic special events!  Regular readers of this blog know that I recommend holding no more than two big special events per year.  The flip side of this board member is the one that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” at every single meeting.  One wants to do the wrong thing and one doesn’t want to try anything new at all.

So what’s the problem with these two mindsets?  Whether you try every tactic possible, or try nothing new at all, you will get the same result … mediocrity.  Things will be fine, but you’ll never really fulfill your mission and change the world.  You’ll be stuck in slow growth mode or maybe even stagnancy.

So how do you do better than mediocre?  The key is to figure out what will work best for your organization, and to do it well … really well.   Buy how? In my opinion, the number one skill for today’s fundraiser is the desire to always be learning.  Read every day … make it a priority.  Keep up with the latest trends.  Attend industry leading conferences.  Expose yourself to other sectors and see what’s working there.  Then bring those ideas back to your office and apply them to your work … INNOVATE.

But don’t just blindly innovate, you have to test what you put into place.  Is it really working, or is does it just make your organization look good?  Charities don’t fulfill their missions by looking good … they do it by raising vital funds and delivering programmatic results.  So, make a commitment to innovation.  Try one or two new strategies at a time.  Keep the ones that work and kill the ones that don’t.  After a few development cycles, you’ll find a few strategies that really elevate your fundraising and charity to the next level.  And you’ll get really good at saying “NO” to the things that you know will take you back  down to the land of mediocrity.

The HOW

Something must also be said for HOW you work.  Are you an efficient worker?  If meeting your goals requires that you put in 60 hour weeks every single week, there’s a problem.  It could be unrealistic expectations or it could be bad work habits.  It’s most likely a combination of both.  By being in touch with your personal productivity habits and constantly seeking ways to improve them, you can take back your life and still be an effective fundraiser.

Developing a personal productivity system that you can trust is a key to success (and sanity).  Managing time, email and social media use are also key skills.  You also need to know how to limit and maximize meetings, travel smart and properly integrate your work and home lives.  And finally, you have to do it all with a great attitude by managing your mood and energy level.

And let’s not forget … you have to actually leave the office to meet with donors, network and build the pipeline.

This has been my framework for success in the nonprofit sector: constant innovation (and testing) with a major focus (okay, addiction) on working efficiently.

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Fundraising Isn’t Rocket Science, But It Demands Willpower

Fundraising Isn’t Rocket Science, But It Demands Willpower

“So, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a fundraiser.”

“You mean you ask people for money? I could never do that.”

Does this conversation sound familiar? I typically have this conversation at least once a week … usually at a networking function with local business executives. What I find most ironic is that it’s typically a sales executive that is saying it, and guess what? We’re pretty much using the same skill set and process, just with some different nuance. I like to say that fundraising is simply sales for a higher cause than profit. But they don’t see it that way. It’s like they think fundraising is some kind of impossible rocket science that they could never master.

Well, the good news is that fundraising isn’t rocket science. There is a large body of best practices for fundraising success that anyone can learn. At its core, every component of successful fundraising comes down to:

1) Developing relationships; AND,
2) Creating and implementing the systems that make sure those relationships get built.

The key is that you have to do both #1 and #2. You have to do them both well. And you have to do them both at the same time. If you just develop relationships then there is no follow through or end goal. If you just develop systems and hang out in your database all day then you aren’t out developing relationships. You need both. You need to do them both well. At the same time.

But that’s it, period. Sure there are lots of other things that you CAN do to boost fundraising returns, but this is all that you HAVE to do. It’s definitely not rocket science, but it is difficult to master. It’s difficult because it takes a ton of willpower and persistence to keep pushing forward. This is especially true in small shops where there’s no one there to encourage you or to check in on your progress on a daily basis. The success all rides on you.

That’s where passion comes in. Working to raise dollars for a cause that you are incredibly passionate about often times doesn’t feel like work. And if it doesn’t feel like work, then that willpower is a heck of a lot easier to muster.

My new favorite response when someone says “You mean you ask people for money? I could never do that” is “Why, it isn’t rocket science … I just develop relationships for a cause that I’m deeply passionate about.” This typically leads into a much deeper conversation about philanthropy and civic duty and gets us back to what we should be doing a networking event, finding common ground.

“So, what do you do for a living?” …

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Don’t Be a Martyr for Your Mission, Max Your Vacation Time

Don’t Be a Martyr for Your Mission, Max Your Vacation Time

A recent report shows that unused vacation time is at a 40-year high.  It seems that more and more workers are simply not taking their earned vacation time or they believe they can’t take time away from their jobs. While these workers believe they are doing what they have to do to get their jobs done, they are actually sacrificing their productivity.

Especially as fundraisers and nonprofit executives, we need to take time away to recharge.  Let’s face it … many of us are under compensated and the job can be quite stressful at times.  Yes, it is incredibly rewarding when we see the impact of our work as the charity’s mission is fulfilled.  However, that sense of fulfillment is not enough.  We need to get away and recharge.

I am proud to say that I have never let a vacation day go to waste.  I don’t always go on vacation, but I always use those days.  Something as simple as a morning hike followed by a relaxing lunch with a long lost acquaintance and an afternoon with a good book (or craft beer) is a perfect way to recharge.

Now that I’m a bit further along in my career, I am able to schedule a week of vacation quarterly.  Some of these weeks are family trips, some are for home projects and some are simply scheduled (the activities will be figured out spontaneously that week).  The key is they are scheduled and the days are used … always.  By blocking these weeks 6 to 9 months ahead of time, I ensure that they actually happen before something pops onto that week on my calendar and it is no longer possible.

While you may think that not using your vacation time will get you more recognition and make you more effective, you couldn’t be more wrong.  You are essentially become a martyr for your mission.  You will burn out and you will not be as effective as you would be after a refresh and recharge.

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Disrupting the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Mindset

Disrupting the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Mindset

Talk about a phrase that I can’t stand … and we hear it so often in the nonprofit sector.  I can’t even bear to type it again (just re-read the blog post title if you need to).

Why We Hear It So Often

Unfortunately in the field of nonprofit fundraising, I think this has become the mantra for some organizations.

This is especially true for those with a 50+ year history of “always finding a way to make it.” It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what has worked in the past will always work.

I find this mantra to be especially prevalent in organizations where the founders are still running the organization after 20+ years. They have a lot of mental ownership over the processes and procedures that they created from nothing — they birthed the organization and their baby is perfect!

I also think that some nonprofits actually perpetuate a culture of complacency. I’ll occasionally encounter a general sense among employees that they don’t have to put forth much effort since “we don’t have to turn a profit.” What they are really saying is that they aren’t being motivated to do anything other the bare minimum requirements to keep their jobs.

Why It’s Such A Big Problem

Allowing this phrase to be said at your organization creates a culture that makes the staff and board afraid of change. They are afraid to speak up when they have an idea or see something that needs to be fixed. Even worse it actually discourages innovation.

What’s the Solution?

But there doesn’t have to be the struggle to “always find a way to make it” each year. The answer is actually quite simple: work to develop a culture of innovation. Acknowledge that change is okay. Empower employees to seek, present, implement and TEST new ideas.

Whether you are an entry level fundraiser, the CEO of a large charity or a new board member, take it upon yourself to find new ideas for your organization. Read for an hour every day (yes … I’m serious). Attend professional development offerings both in the sector and out of it. Learn from nonprofit experts and also follow business experts — adapt what they do to the nonprofit sector and you’ll really be innovative.

As an example, a few years back a charity that I was working at was contemplating implementing a new signature special event.  Those that know me know that I am not an events guy, so I was pretty skeptical but went along with the process.  Very quickly the task force came to the conclusion that it was a crowded events space and we needed to break the mold if we were going to be successful.  So, we flipped the normal question of “What kind of event do we want to throw?” around and instead asked “What do we hate about all the other events in town?”  We filled an entire white board with bad fundraising event experiences.  We in turn created a non-traditional gala that puts the guest experience first and in turn now raises over $150,000 for the arts in our community each year (here’s a link to a highlight video from a few years back).

We didn’t just do what everyone else does.  Yes we incorporated best practices on how you throw a gala, but we also asked the hard question of “What could be better about galas?” — and most importantly we put our guests (donors) first.

That’s how you’ll really fulfill your mission … fix things that aren’t necessarily broken, but could certainly be improved upon.  Break the mold.  Be different.  Innovate.  Always.


What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  @fundraiserchad and the other 200+ fundraisers in the community would love to hear from you!

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Make the Donor the Hero of Your Organization’s Story

Make the Donor the Hero of Your Organization’s Story

This post is a shout out to my fundraising writing mentor, Tom Ahern.  Tom specializes in applying the discoveries of psychology and neuroscience to the day-to-day business of inspiring and retaining donors.

About three years ago, I heard Tom say “your donors don’t care about your campaign goal” and it was transformative for me.  I had been putting campaign goals in my appeal letters for years (e.g. “We’re only $15,000 away from our goal, with your help we can meet it before our fiscal year ends!”).  But research has shown that donors don’t really care about our fundraising goals — especially prospective donors.  Yes, helping an organization reach their goal might be nice, but the goal doesn’t belong to the donor so in the end they just really don’t care about it that much.

But Tom has found that it goes a bit further than just your goals that donors don’t care that much about.  They don’t care all that much about organizational accomplishments either.  Things like be re-accredited, finalizing a new strategic plan or hiring a great new staff member seem like big reportable news stories, but in the end donors aren’t that interested.  Thanks for crushing our dreams, Tom!

So what do donors care about?  They care about themselves.  Not in a selfish way, but in how they help your organization succeed.  They want to know what difference their support makes.  The impact their donation has on your ability to fulfill your mission.

Another great line and tactic by Tom is to “make the donor the hero of your organization’s story.”  This is actually pretty easy to do, you just use the word “you” a ton throughout your correspondence.  Lines like “With your support …” and “Because of you  …” are great ways to say what happened, but to clearly state that it’s the donor that made it happen.  They are the hero of this story, not you or your organization.  Without them, none of it would be possible.

So take a look at your last appeal letter and see how you did.  When I review letters for clients, about 50% of them still talk about the campaign goal and 80% of them don’t have enough “yous” in the text.


What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  @fundraiserchad and the other 200+ fundraisers in the community would love to hear from you!

Want to keep on reading?  Here are most posts related to …

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Eat That Frog (or start with a few tadpoles)

Eat That Frog (or start with a few tadpoles)

Have you heard of the productivity practice where you are supposed to “eat that frog?”  Sometimes personal productivity just gets a little bit weird.  This idea comes from Brian Tracy’s bestselling book Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. The idea is this:

  1. Identify your most important (and typically most difficult) task of the day (this is your “frog”);
  2. Do that task first, before anything else (this is where you “eat” it).

The thought is that if you do this one item, then whatever happens the rest of the day doesn’t matter so much.  All of the crises and distractions that occur later that day won’t have as much of an impact since you already completed one key item that will move you forward toward achieving your goal.

I understand the theory and even recommend that folks give it a try, but it doesn’t work for me. I find that I can’t just jump right into my most important task of the day first. I need a warm up.

So, what’s a good alternative? Start by eating a few tadpoles. A “tadpole” is a smaller, less daunting task that lets you build up momentum to eat that frog. Examples would be a quick first draft of something you need to write, editing an earlier draft or compiling your monthly expense report. It gets you in the groove and sets you up for later success.

So figure out what works best for you and “eat that frog” or start with a few tadpoles. The point is to make the beginning of your day uber productive so that whatever happens the rest of the day doesn’t matter so much.

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What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  @fundraiserchad and the other 200+ fundraisers in the community would love to hear from you!

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Stop Showering All of Your Donors with Love

Stop Showering All of Your Donors with Love

In this guest post for fundraising expert Michael Rosen, I talk about the difference between relationship fundraising and transactional fundraising.  My biggest takeaway from the 2016 Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference (in Boston) was that these two fundraising theories can, and should, coexist in the same fundraising plan/shop.

Please give it a read and let me know your thoughts:

https://michaelrosensays.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/stop-showering-all-of-your-donors-with-love/


What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  @fundraiserchad and the other 200+ fundraisers in the community would love to hear from you!

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The Secret to Sending Prompt Thank You Notes

The Secret to Sending Prompt Thank You Notes

When we meet with a donor, prospect or volunteer, especially for the first time, we fundraisers have the best of intention of sending a thoughtful hand-written thank you note. We truly appreciate the gift of time that the individual has given us and we want to sincerely thank them for it.  Plus, we know that most people don’t get many thank you notes, especially hand-written ones, and we know the impact that they have on the recipient.

But what typically happens?  That’s right … life happens.  We go to back to the office and get buried in the flood of emails that piled up while we were away.  Or we head home and go right into dinner prep and homework help.  Even if we add “Write thank you note to Susan” to our to do list, three days often go by before we get to it — and promptness is a big key to success with thank you notes.

So, what’s the solution?  Keep a set of thank you cards and pre-stamped envelopes with you at all times (in your briefcase, car, purse, etc.).  Immediately after a meeting, do not create an electronic reminder to send a follow up note, which inevitably will be postponed so many times as to become late and ultimately obsolete. Instead, at the very moment you think of it, reach in your bag, grab a ready-to-mail card and complete it. The details of your message will be fresh in your mind and it will be effortless.  If you struggle with what to write, here’s my guide to writing three sentence, three minute thank you notes.

One additional tactic that I often use is to pre-address the thank you note while I’m waiting to go into a meeting and lay it on my passengerPicture1 seat.  Then it’s the first thing I see upon returning to my car and it’s easy to quickly rattle it off.  When I get back to the office or home it is immediately dropped in the outgoing mail.

Having a supply of pre-stamped thank you cards with you at all times will make sending your thank you notes much easier — almost effortless.  It will be one less point of stress in your day that will make a big difference with your donors.

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What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  @fundraiserchad and the other 200+ fundraisers in the community would love to hear from you!

Want to keep on reading?  Here are most posts related to …

@fundraiserchad sends out great fundraising tips a few times each week.  Email subscribers also receive a FREE downloadable template, sample, checklist, etc. which is related to the tip and helps to fast track implementation. Want in?  Subscribe today!

How to Put Fundraising Ideas into Action

How to Put Fundraising Ideas into Action

I find that fundraisers spend a lot of unnecessary time chasing the next great thing and worrying about how they’ll come up with new ways to raise dollars for their cause.   A productive fundraiser does not do this.  For the productive fundraiser, idea generation is an ongoing and innate process.  They are constantly collecting ideas and therefore have a fundraising tactic treasure trove constantly at their disposal.  It’s not a switch that you turn on at conferences or as your campaign year wraps up — it’s an ongoing process.

There’s a great quote by business guru Seth Godin that shows the value of this approach: “You probably don’t need yet another new idea. Better to figure out what to do with the ones you’ve got.”  [sidebar: I had the pleasure of seeing Seth live at AFP’s 2015 International Conference in Baltimore — he’s the best public speaker I’ve ever seen.  Don’t miss the opportunity if you get the chance to see him live.]

So, once you take on this mindset, you’ll never have to go searching for great ideas again.  You’ll already have them stored away somewhere for future use.  Personally, I have a notebook in my online note taking application of choice (Evernote) simply called “Idea Bank.”  It’s a collection of ideas, articles, photos, etc. taken from conferences, books, articles, blog posts, conversations, etc.  Anytime I think “I like that … that could work for us,” the idea is captured and sent to the “Idea Bank” for future consideration.

Each year I begin the fundraising planning process by scanning my “Idea Bank” for the best two new ideas to implement in the coming year.  Yes … two.  Not five, certainly not ten, not one, exactly TWO.  The key is to find the best two ideas that are immediately actionable and include them in your plan.  One should be started right away and the other a few months later.  You should also have a few ideas in reserve in case one of the first two don’t work out.  As you implement, you should constantly be testing and evaluating how things are working.  Don’t be afraid to pull the plug if something isn’t working, but have another idea in your pocket to take its place.

Every successful fundraising plan that I’ve seen has had two new innovative strategies in it … every year.  Not two ideas that didn’t work out … two ideas that successfully raised increased funding for the organization.  They might not have been the two ideas that were in the plan at the beginning of the year, but they were the two that got the job done.

When you’re always learning, have a system in place to capture great ideas, and are constantly testing new innovative ideas, your fundraising will automatically become more innovative and successful.  You won’t even have to think about putting fundraising inspiration into action — it will be second nature.


What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  @fundraiserchad and the other 200+ fundraisers in the community would love to hear from you!

Want to keep on reading?  Here are most posts related to …

@fundraiserchad sends out great fundraising tips a few times each week.  Email subscribers also receive a FREE downloadable template, sample, checklist, etc. which is related to the tip and helps to fast track implementation. Want in?  Subscribe today!

How to Earn More Donor Referrals

How to Earn More Donor Referrals

The most frequent question I get from fundraisers is “Where do I find new donors?” or board members, or event volunteers, etc.

My answer is almost always the same:  “That’s easy, from the ones you already have.”  No matter what type of individual you are looking for the best new ones are the friends and contacts of your current ones.  People tend to associate with like minded people, so it only makes sense that your current donors and volunteers hang out with other folks that would make great donors and volunteers.

So, you’re essentially looking for referrals.  But referrals don’t come automatically, you have to earn them.  You earn them by making the process easy.  This starts by knowing exactly what you’re looking for.   Take a look at your top 25 donors and search for commonalities.  Are they around a certain age?  Predominantly one gender?  Have an interest in the same topic?  Work in related industries?  These commonalities will form a profile of the type of person you are looking for.

Next, you need a way to engage prospects in your charity’s work.  This is best accomplished through periodic introductory events (quarterly typically works well).  These are not lavish donor receptions.  These are simple events, typically hosted at your facility, which introduce people to your charity and show them the work that you do.  It can involve a tour, remarks from a beneficiary, a welcome from the CEO, etc. I find that 5 to 6:30pm on a weeknight works best as folks can squeeze you in right after work.  A few bottles of wine and some simple hors d’ oeuvres always make the event go smoother as well.  The biggest key with these events is that there is NO ASK at them … they are educational and the start of a relationship — they do not raise money (at least not that evening).

Once these two pieces are in place, you can begin to ask your current donors for referrals.  You don’t ask everyone, you ask donors that you have a strong relationship with and that are actively engaged in the life of your organization (e.g. current and former board members).  To begin the process, explain that your organization is looking to grow its support base and is in need of a few new donors.  Then ask, “do you know of anyone else that might have an interest in our cause?”  They will most likely say “no” or “no one immediately comes to mind” — that’s when you pull out the two tools that you’ve built.

First the donor profile … you can reply with “that’s understandable” and then say “let me paint you a picture of who we’re looking for.”  Then review the characteristics of your ideal donor.  They’ll  begin to review their network as you’re speaking and will most likely think of a few folks.  But they’re scared, they don’t know if they can trust you … they don’t know what will happen next.

That’s when the second tool comes out … the introductory event.  This is where you explain to your donors what happens next in the referral process.  You share how the organization has these periodic events where individuals can come and learn about the organization.  Stress that there is NO ASK made at these events.  They are simply educational.  The donor can bring the prospect with them as a guest or extend the invitation and not attend.

Knowing exactly who you’re looking for and what happens next makes your donors more likely to give you referrals.  It allows them to find matches for your charity in their network and conquers their fear that you’re instantly going to hit up all their friends as soon as they give you a list.  So take some time to develop these tools and begin earning your donor referrals.

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What are your thoughts?  Join the discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  @fundraiserchad and the other 200+ fundraisers in the community would love to hear from you!

Want to keep on reading?  Here are most posts related to …

@fundraiserchad sends out great fundraising tips a few times each week.  Email subscribers also receive a FREE downloadable template, sample, checklist, etc. which is related to the tip and helps to fast track implementation. Want in?  Subscribe today!

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