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.

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.

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/

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.

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.

Ban Window Envelopes from Your Fundraising

Ban Window Envelopes from Your Fundraising

Window envelopes and fundraising just don’t mix.  Period.

The key to fundraising is to build relationships.  Window envelopes don’t build relationships.  Window envelopes tell people that they have a bill to pay or someone is trying to sell them something that they probably don’t want.

No place is this more true than with gift acknowledgments and thank you letters.  If we had the time, we’d hand address these and make them as personal as possible.  Window envelopes take them in the exact opposite direction.  Even if you are seeking payment on a pledge or sending an acquisition appeal, window envelopes are not a good option.

Because of the philanthropic community’s focus on nonprofit efficiency and low expense ratios, the temptation to use window envelopes is always there.  They are a less expensive option since they save the cost of printing addresses on the envelope and any hand matching that would need to be done between the letter and the envelope.  Most print reps will suggest this to you as a way of cutting costs.  However, you need to say “NO” — the connotation is not worth the cost savings.

While this is all backed up by research and window envelopes do decrease donor response, that’s really not the key factor here.  What’s important is how you make your donors feel.  Window envelopes should come from your donor’s water company, not from a cause that they are passionate about.  And if they are giving despite your behavior/treatment, it certainly won’t inspire them to give more.

So, isn’t it time to remove window envelopes from your office?  That’s actually a fun Friday afternoon activity … go find all of the window envelopes and hide/pitch/burn them!  I don’t even like nonprofit accounting departments using them … it’s an organizational culture kind of thing.  It’s one time where the efficiency gained is not worth the price you end up paying.

Put Fundraising Expectations in Your Board Job Description

Put Fundraising Expectations in Your Board Job Description

Perhaps the most common complaint that I hear from fundraisers and executive directors is “my board won’t fundraise.”

On closer examination it almost always comes down to unclear expectations or lack of knowledge — not an outright avoidance of all fundraising activity.  The vast majority of nonprofit board members understand that they need to be a part of the resource development process.  Most just don’t know how to do that unless you, the fundraiser,  tell them, teach them and guide them.

So what’s the easy fix here?  Spell out your organization’s board fundraising expectations from the very beginning of the relationship.  The easiest way to do this is to put your fundraising expectations in your board job description (there’s a sample one in @fundraiserchad’s Free Resource Library).

Obviously not every item on the board job description will be fundraising related, but a few of the listed responsibilities should be.  They should also be specific.  Something like “in collaboration with other directors, assist in the resource development process” is not going to get it done — they know that they need to do something, but they still don’t know exactly what or how.

Here are a few concrete examples of potential fundraising expectations to include in a board job description:

  • Approve fund development goals and plans;
  • Participate in fundraising activities (especially in regard to identification and cultivation of prospective donors);
  • Make introductions to prospective donors (some organizations set a yearly quota on this one, e.g. a minimum of three);
  • Secure their businesses’ contribution to the annual campaign;
  • Attend all organizational sponsored events (include a list of what & when these are);
  • Make a personally significant contribution to the Fund’s annual campaign (some organizations have a minimum that they list in the job description).

Having a board job description, which includes key fundraising expectations, will make a huge difference in finding the right board members for your organization who are motivated and willing to help you take it to the next level.

Chad loves providing ACTIONABLE fundraising tips to small nonprofits.  He’s building the best FREE fundraising resource library out there.  Want to know when there’s something new?  Then opt in for email updates ... Oh, and he’s known to give away free swag to subscribers … including $100 donations to your cause!
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