If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
Is this you?
Many organizations share a problem.
They’re either new and need to build a fundraising program…
Or they’re not new at all but have never focused on building a fundraising program.
In both situations, the answer is a fundraising plan.
Some organizations have gotten by for years with only government or foundation funding.
Some have a few major supporters – either corporate or individual – who keep the place afloat.
But they haven’t been able to grow. And it’s hard to plan their programs. All because they’re always one rejection away from disaster.
To me, the solution is a diversified fundraising program. One that includes not just institutional support, but gifts from individuals.
When you have a wider base of support, you can absorb difficulties more easily.
But how do you get there?
Your first planning step is planning to invest.
Any plan will only be as good as your commitment to act on it. If you want a successful planning process, you’ll need to invest both time and money. It’s necessary for the long-term health of your organization.
The decision to invest is often the hardest part.
What we need is money, and you want us to spend it?
But think about this: you ask funders to invest in programs before you set them in motion. In the same way, you need to spend time and money now in order to be stronger tomorrow.
Every organization is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all fundraising plan. But I do see some trends that concern me.
Maybe some of this sounds like you?
Communication – especially about how donors can join the cause – is sporadic and not strategic. It’s often seen as a “nice to”, not a “have to” in the daily struggle to meet your mission.
Fundraising is seen as a necessary, but distasteful or scary activity. Or one that strips resources from the important things you do, like programming.
Your staff is stretched. And there’s no one person focused on fundraising. Or the board is a working board and functions as staff. They’re willing, but not trained. And more than a little nervous.
The result? Survival is day-to-day. The situation leaves everyone feeling strung out.
And you’re less effective because you’re spending so much psychic energy avoiding the problem.
But don’t fret. This is all pretty normal. And it can be overcome. A good planning process can be the first step your organization takes to a new level of maturity and effectiveness.
Here’s some of what you’ll probably need to do:
Produce a case statement
What’s a case statement? In short, your best argument. Or better yet, your best emotional plea – the answer to the question “Why should I give you money? What will happen if I do?”
Yes, this can be a fancy brochure you take on major solicitations. But often, it’s an internal document that feeds your fundraising messaging.
It’s your fundraising master text.
The process of creating a case statement brings everyone in the organization into alignment around messaging. It also helps everyone understand fundraising.
Create good internal systems
You need processes for taking gifts in, thanking people, and tracking relationships.
Chances are you need to invest in a good fundraising database system. But you’ll also need to create workflows so everyone understands what needs to be done, when and by whom. Build accountability into your structure.
Communicate more often and in a way that appeals to donors
Most of the time, gifts don’t just arrive on your desk like magic.
You know it’s true: you have to ask if you want support. To raise money you need to talk to people!
So offer compelling appeals, newsletters and more. Design them to spark interest in your cause and a desire to be more involved.
Easier said than done? Take yourself to school – there are many great resources online. Or hire a copywriter – and use that experience to learn.
Communication isn’t a one-way street, of course. So listen well, too. Think conversation rather than broadcast.
Consider a donor survey. Hold a Thankathon so your board or staff talks directly to your supporters to learn what matters to them. Ask for feedback on your website.
Communication includes solicitations, of course. Are you really asking? Or are your appeals so soft they go unnoticed? Or worse, are you sending the message that you don’t need support?
Be clear. Explain the problem and why help is needed – urgently. Show donors how they can solve the problem. (Not you. If you’re solving it, they won’t have to bother, right?)
And don’t make your appeals one-size-fits-all. Look at your lists. Some of those people could be giving more. Some of those people could be giving monthly. And some could be making gifts in their wills. None of those gifts will happen if you don’t ask – and ask the right people.
Don’t take any of the people who respond to these special requests out of the regular communication stream, though.
I don’t have to remind you that thanking donors and reporting to them on what their gifts have done is also mandatory, do I? Read more about thanks here. And about donor newsletters here.
Focus on relationship building
It’s true: you’ll do better focusing on donors rather than dollars.
Make a plan for reaching out to people who might be interested. Treat them as human beings, not checkbooks. Ask for their input. Thank them for their attention and their gifts. Invite them to become more involved and to help you widen your circles.
Identify your most passionate donors and spend more time with them. Those with the capacity to give more can make a tremendous difference to your organization if they understand how important they can be. Major donors need personal attention.
Those with fewer means can become monthly donors – or include you in their estate plans.
But none of that will happen if you don’t make it a priority.
Where do you find the time for that? Most organizations spend far too much time on events that take a lot of staff time. And don’t add much to your bottom line. Pare down the events and crank up the relationship-building.
Don’t forget to involve staff and volunteers – they can be your best bridges to wider support.
Create a culture where mistakes are a way to improve. Try something new. Be ready to examine everything you do and change when you identify what could be done better.
If you’re really focused on improving, even a small or new organization can make great progress.
Ask for help. Many community foundations now have departments that concentrate on helping nonprofits work better. Take advantage of the courses or seminars they offer.
Read a lot. There’s a world of great information online. There are also libraries of great books.
But don’t hesitate to speak to colleagues at successful organizations, either. You might be able to learn from their experience. Look for every chance to find something new that might work for you.
Once you have a program in place and you’re starting to see some traction, remember to keep feeding it.
The better you fundraise, the stronger your organization will be. And the stronger you are, the more good you can do.