And it’s time to gear up for the busiest time of the fundraising year.
Do you have a plan to succeed?
Strategy requires choices. With pinched budgets and big needs, making those choices can be tough.
Where do you spend your money?
Where do you spend your time?
So take a look at what you’ve got to work with. Then decide what results you can achieve within those boundaries.
Alan Clayton wrote a terrific piece recently about the role of focus in successful fundraising. I encourage you to read it and let it influence your planning this fall. Doing one thing really well is more important than doing many things poorly!
Where to spend your money
This is a constant question for any nonprofit organization. We get pretty good at making do. Sometimes, that forces us to be creative.
Sometimes, that means we fail.
1. Printing and mailing
For organizations with a direct mail program, these expenses can add up quickly. You might feel it’s a great area for do-it-yourselfing.
But think carefully.
Maybe you mail a small number of pieces. Professional printing may not make financial sense. Buying or leasing a good office printer might be the better bet.
A strong appeal letter doesn’t have to be fancy. And if you have to touch every page anyway, take that as encouragement to add personal touches. Handwritten notes on that appeal could boost your results!
If you’re mailing more, though, it’s worth investigating mailing houses. This is especially true if you’re attempting to do bulk mail from the office. A good mailing house can often print, sort and mail for close to what you’d spend doing yourself. And it will happen faster and look more professional.
Remember, managing volunteers takes time. So talk to a mail house before you start revving up the volunteer stuffing team. You can get a quote for the job, and weigh your time against the money.
Mailing at the less expensive nonprofit rate makes sense. But maybe you’re concerned about how long it can take to reach your donors. Talk to your mailing house about that as well. Mine discovered that a nonprofit rate mailing from a smaller post office went out as fast as first-class. The smaller post office had no room to leave it sitting around!
2. Data systems
Data is critical to your work. It’s never a good idea to skimp here.
Excel is not a solution. And unless you’re a genius with it, neither is Access.
Again, consider both time and money. A good system should be easy to use – even for newbies. With turnover what it is in our sector, training is an important consideration. (You shouldn’t need 2-week training sessions out of state to use your system.)
Consider also the time you spend trying to make Excel or some other less functional solution work. Investing in great donor software is a must.
Invest time upfront by making a careful choice.
- Does the software track what you need to track?
- Can you and your colleagues learn it quickly?
- How easy is it to pull reports?
- Can you adapt it to your organization’s unique needs?
- What’s their support like?
(Talk to other users and make sure support is great and available via a toll-free number. I was shocked to find one system required a toll call just to ask a question.)
Then spend more time on a good conversion. Make sure you’ve got the information well-organized. If you don’t, or you allow it to become messy, there’s no system that can overcome that. And you’ll waste all kinds of time trying. Keep your data clean!
There are many choices out there. Some of them are pricey, but many are quite affordable. Do your research. Start by reading this article by Jay Love.
When it comes to design, you also have options.
Think about what you need designed.
- Is it evergreen or archival?
- Who’s the audience?
- What’s its purpose?
Your appeal package doesn’t have to have a brochure. Creating one is time-consuming. And brochures can often depress your results.
Spend on good copy and personalization, instead.
But maybe it’s an annual report or something else the public will see and judge your organization on. It has to be good!
Whether you handle this inside or not depends on your skills. Canva, Google Slides, Gimp are all useful and free tools. But they don’t guarantee great results. You need some design experience to make the best of them.
How you communicate with your donors is critical!
This is an area where most of us try to just do it. But to do it well, you’ll need to spend either time or money.
If you’ve spent the time to learn to do it well, that’s great.
If you’re not there yet, you might want to bring an expert it.
I learned by doing myself. But my organization began by hiring an expert. She taught us what good copywriting looked like. I took over, but she was necessary training wheels.
If you want to learn, there is so much good information out there to help. Start with Jerry Huntsinger’s free tutorials on SOFII.
Not sure if you need help? Marlene Oliviera offers 11 reasons to outsource to a professional.
5. Your website
Tools like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix and Weebly make it possible to put together a nice looking site.
But don’t plan on doing it yourself without investing lots of time!
And you will probably need some functionality that a blog (like this) doesn’t need: donation processing, donation landing pages, great email integration with your database.
Think carefully about everything you need. It’s smart to at least consult with an expert to help you through the planning process.
6. Your budget
I hadn’t included this item, because I hope you’re already working with a solid budget. But I urge you to read Simone Joyaux’s great piece about fundraising and budgets. It’s what you need to know!
Bottom line? Plan and then focus
The best way to waste your time and your money is to fly by the seat of your pants.
Review your assets: your list, your skills, your time, your case for support. Then decide how best to deploy them – and where you need to bring in some help.
Knowing ahead of time who you’ll need to call on could also save you money – last minute jobs come at a premium.
Then focus on one message – and use it relentlessly. About the time you’re sick to death of it, your audience will just begin hearing it.
Collect stories, stay on message, listen carefully to your responses – and end the year strong!
Photo thanks to Flazingo