Some unsolicited advice for organization leaders
Whatever your fiscal calendar, this is the time of year when hopes are placed on fundraising success. Most organizations raise a good part of their money between November and December.
Your fundraising staff are busy. There are mailings to get out, email campaigns to design… oh yes, and #GivingTuesday to worry about.
All of this highlights the importance of your fundraisers to your organization’s success. If you want to look good, you want them to succeed.
But most fundraisers feel overburdened and underappreciated. The turnover rate for development staff is absurdly high.
I spent many years as a staff fundraiser, so I offer these suggestions to you from experience.
They should help your organization raise more money and lower your costs in the longer-run. And that will make you look like a star!
Stop writing by committee
Any good copywriter knows a committee is the fastest way to kill fundraising writing.
The process takes enormous amounts of time. And the result is a less effective appeal. (That goes for anything else you write for donors.)
So put your foot down: input on the piece happens before the copy is written or not at all. (Proofreading is ok.)
Then if you have a strong copywriter on staff, trust her to do the job.
If you don’t, consider outsourcing to a professional.
Staff or an outside pro, leave your writer alone to do the job right.
Give your fundraising staff a budget at the beginning of the year
Your fundraising staff will want to plan ahead. That’s a good thing. It makes for more effective fundraising.
Flopping around blindly through the year means little or no strategy.
When everything isn’t done at the last minute, you waste less time and money.
Tell your staff what they have to work with up front. Then resist the urge to pull the rug out from under them halfway through the year.
Invest in your fundraising efforts
This is huge. And yes, it may mean spending more money today to raise much more tomorrow.
But you won’t benefit in the long run if you cut corners with fundraising.
Invest wisely in the best, not the cheapest, donor database.
A bad one is a tremendous time suck.
It will make your staff miserable. You’ll just end up scrapping it and getting something else in a few years. Then you’ll spend more time and money to go through the conversion process all over again.
Besides, if it’s not easy to use, it will be used badly. And bad data is a fundraising killer.
Hire well and pay more for the best people.
Your employees are your most valuable resource. We often say that – but you should mean it.
You want a fundraiser who will stick around. Those relationships she develops? You need them. They’re valuable.
One way you can help is a win-win: education. Pay for your staff to learn more about what they do. That’s a solid investment in your work and your staff.
Don’t drive your fundraising people out the door. Donors do notice. And they wonder what it says about your organization.
Plan ahead on supplies.
Sounds silly, but I’ve seen this problem over and over again.
When your staff has to delay a job because they’re waiting for those envelopes on rush order? When the staff starts hoarding nice folders because you run out every year? Wasted time and money.
Be clear about board responsibilities
If you have a fundraising committee, be sure they understand their charge.
Their job is to support the professional fundraisers, not manage them.
Fundraising can be scary for boards. So often, they’ll do anything to avoid actually getting involved.
Offering advice (because another organization does it this way, or I’m not comfortable with us sending another solicitation in the same year, or maybe you could just call Oprah...) is easier than actually dealing with donors.
But the fear of fundraising keeps them from some of the most rewarding work board members can do.
And a good fundraiser can find ways for every board member to be involved according to their skills and personality.
Leave room for innovation
This means trusting the staff you’ve hired and invested in. Encourage their learning – even if it’s just giving them time during the work day to read about fundraising online.
Then give them the chance to test ideas – without punishing failure. Many, maybe even most, ideas most won’t work.
But the ones that do will make a big difference in your fundraising success.
Be sure the ones that don’t work offer everyone a chance to learn something.
But don’t ask them to chase the new hot thing
Just because some other organization raised lots of money in some cool way (ice buckets, anyone?) doesn’t mean you can, too.
Asking your staff to drop their plans and learn the newest social media platform or come up with a “viral” campaign pulls them from real fundraising work.
There’s always room for good ideas and innovation. But trust your staff to incorporate those ideas into their overall plans.
Don’t depend on fundraising events
Events are fun (sometimes). Events can raise money (sometimes).
But have you taken into consideration your staff’s time?
Every moment they spend designing invitations and talking about décor is time away from communicating with donors.
Just because you always have doesn’t mean you always must put on an event.
Consider smaller, more intimate events as a way to meet your supporters. Less money, less time, more interaction with the people who matter.
Do your part when asked
Is your development director always reminding you to call a donor? Did you forget that important funder meeting?
I get it. Maybe no one explained how big a part of your job fundraising is.
But it is.
You are most likely the chief spokesperson and face of your organization.
Big donors and funders want to talk to the boss. (That’s you!)
So let your staff prepare you. And then do as you’re asked.
Refuse to allow inter-department competition get in the way
You might find it easier to side-step some sticky decisions by pushing them off.
But throwing out the scraps and letting staff fight it out is both cowardly and unproductive.
Make decisions about resources based on the facts, not who whines loudest.
Make sure authority is clear (who “owns” the website, marketing or fundraising? Why?)
And reward playing nicely with others.
If your organizational goals are what comes first, not individual career goals or departmental achievements, everyone can feel part of something bigger.
And everyone will succeed.
Ok, my fundraising friends: what did I miss? Help us all do better this year – add your suggestions!
Photo: Ryan McGuire