In my consulting practice, I’ve worked with some new, tiny or small-ish organizations. They’re all feeling the same frustration, however – how to grow.
They want simple things: stability, maybe a salary for the ED or maybe for enough staff to do the job right.
They feel the lack of prospects, donors, planning. And time. Especially time.
But time is what it takes.
Of course, there are no magic answers. And the right answer for one organization is not the right answer for another.
But there are some near-certainties. Fundraisers or consultants don’t come with magic rolodexes. Prospects won’t magically flock to you. And pitching your communications to everyone is a sure-fire way to fail.
Even when time is short, time is what it will take. Time and focus.
You don’t start by speaking to the world. The world is busy with many other things.
You start by speaking to the people already aware of you. The ones who already give or volunteer… or at least have given you their email address.
And that’s where your small size can be your secret superpower.
That inner circle of people? Make them feel amazing. Treat them like dear friends. Communicate with them often. Show them what’s possible when they support you.
Don’t check them off your to-do list until the next year. A gift is not the goal. A gift is one step in what you want to make a long and evolving relationship.
So yes, ask enough. Thank more. Report often. Bring donors along until they’re nearly as passionate as you are about your mission. Then ask them to widen your circle.
- Pass along your newsletter to an interested friend
- Forward your emails
- Host a house party and invite a few people who they think might be interested
- Share your messages on Facebook
- Ask friends to celebrate their birthday with a gift to your organization
And so on. You are only limited by your imagination here.
Most will not respond, or might do something small. That’s OK. A few will step up – and that’s fantastic.
Now you start building relationships with the new people. And you keep doing so with the first group.
Occasionally, your mission might catch fire – you could be involved with something that’s in the news. People might feel your mission is so compelling they come to find you. And that’s wonderful!
But don’t expect that to happen. Be ready – but don’t daydream.
Strong organizations grow because they nurture their supporters’ interest.
They communicate well. They appeal to their audience’s needs, fears, and desires. They are ever-widening, ever-welcoming, and open-armed.
And they work hard at it.
On the business end, they invest.
Too small to mail? Please think again. Have an envelope-stuffing party. Ask your board members or volunteers to bring a book of stamps with them.
Unsure how to write a great appeal or email series? There is a wealthy of information online – free. But you have to invest the time to learn.
Try diving into SOFII. You’ll be amazed at the resources there – all free.
A wise friend once said, “Chase donors, not dollars”. He was absolutely right. Focus on the relationships and the dollars will follow.
If your nearest and dearest supporters are going to pass along your communications, there have to be communications. A once a year appeal is not nearly enough! Create a communications calendar and then stick to it.
A good plan should contain appeals (perhaps 3 a year), email updates (please, not email “newsletters” full of everything you can throw in. Send a short, pointed all-about-the-donor’s-accomplishments update, instead. Monthly would be good.), a print newsletter (you can do this yourself and print it on the office copier. It doesn’t have to be gorgeous, it does have to full of gratitude. Try for at least 3 a year. If you’re doing it right, these will bring in money, too.)
Be sure your website is welcoming, too. Don’t make donors search to find their place. Be front and center with gratitude as well as need.
Again, this isn’t about expense, it’s about intention.
Don’t skimp on stewardship!
Do you have a charismatic leader or board member? Be sure they know how to explicitly invite people in their audience to get involved. Few people raise their hand without being asked.
There’s nothing particularly tricky about growing your organization. It takes focus, patience and a real commitment to your donors.
You may not grow fast following these tips.
But you’ll grow smart.