Fundraising isn’t easy. And there are no magic shortcuts.
My friend Ephraim reminded me of this recently. Nonprofit board members or even staff leaders suggesting fundraisers just… call Oprah. Or Bill. Or whats-his-name with the spaceship…
That’s not how it works. Really.
I’ve witnessed this firsthand, too. An arts organization, talking about the budget. And someone had to suggest that Spielberg has so much money. And he must love the arts! Can we find someone who knows him?
Ok. That was well-meaning. It really was.
But it puts fundraising staff in a bad place. How do you say, “that’s just… ugh” in a polite way?
Fundraising isn’t magic
There is no magic contact list.
If you interview for a new fundraiser and she tells you she’s got contacts to all the wealthiest people in town, run. Because unless those contacts are already on your list, they aren’t YOUR contacts.
There’s no shortcut to building relationships that are based on interest in your mission. It takes time. How long? You can get lucky and find someone who was just waiting to be noticed. It happens. But you can’t budget for that.
On my first day at one position, I was given a seat and a phone. Not even a database. I’m afraid the expectation was that’s all a fundraiser needs. But it’s not.
It takes more. More time. More skill. More patience.
Fundraising isn’t money first, people second
You’ve probably met fundraisers who do raise a lot of money in a relatively short period of time.
But watching them work might have left you feeling a little uncomfortable. They don’t much care about relationships. They’re interested only in the dollars. (This is also why fundraisers should NEVER be paid a percentage of what they raise.)
In my experience, those are the people who move around. Because they’ve blown through the organization’s contacts, twisting arms to get maximum income from them, without much concern for the long-term consequences of that kind of overly aggressive fundraising. They leave a mess behind. But their short-term numbers can look attractive to the next employer.
Fundraising isn’t only about your organization
People give for a range of reasons. Some have to do with your organization.
And giving once or twice doesn’t always show a real interest in your mission. Think about it: how many gifts have you made that mean a lot to someone you know? Memorial gifts, tribute gifts, even Facebook birthday gifts… any of those gifts may not indicate much connection to the organization.
So smart fundraisers don’t make that assumption. They look at the gift source. They look at your history (has that memorial gift arrived two years in a row on the same date?). And they begin courting you. A warm thank you. A welcome pack. A newsletter that shows how you’ve made something good happen. Maybe a short survey to learn more about you.
All of that takes time, effort, and patience. But just as with person-to-person relationships, that steady attention can pay off.
Fundraising is a learned skill
Fundraising is a skill – and those skills are never perfected. Your fundraising staff should be given time to keep learning and growing. (That’s a good way to help keep them around, too.)
And if you want fundraising done well, learning the skill doesn’t happen overnight.
Plant the seeds. Spend time nurturing them. Offer information and a big dose of kindness. Win people over.
Fundraising isn’t as cheap as a phone call
I suspect part of the attraction of “just call Oprah!” is the perceived donation to cost ratio. A phone call! Totally worth it!
Nope. If you want to raise more money, you will need to spend money. On the right things.
For instance: start by building a good individual giving program with a wide base of support. That means direct mail, phone if you can, and digital. And all of those communication channels take both skill and money to succeed.
When you have a program of individual donors, you can learn who might want to give more. Spend more time on them and you can grow a major gifts program.
Any fundraising you do will also cost money. Spend wisely, but spend.
Fundraising isn’t easy
And your fundraisers are working hard. Tossing off Bill or Oprah as if they haven’t been doing all they can to raise enough money is not just silly, it’s hurtful.
Find good people. Trust them to use their skills. Oprah isn’t going to send a check.