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.
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.