If fundraising matters to your organization, then you must invest in it.
Have you ever saved for something really important?
A car, a house, an education? If you’re saving now, you’ve noticed how low interest rates are. It can be hard to see your savings grow so slowly.
Your organization, if you have an endowment or reserve funds, saves too. Your finance director or board finance chair (or both) watches the investment carefully. They move money around so your organization gets the most from that money.
But who watches your fundraising program?
Who makes fundraising investment decisions?
If the idea of investing in fundraising strikes you as a little odd, you’re not alone. Too many organizations need to see fundraising results grow – yet don’t want to invest in that growth. Or at best, want growth with very little investment.
That’s short-term thinking. And maybe we can be forgiven… as the people running our organizations are often short-term, too. How long have you been at your current organization? If it’s more than a few years, you’re bucking the trends.
I’m sure the people watching your endowment are not held accountable for only one year’s growth. “Sorry, we’re letting you go. You didn’t produce enough interest this year.”
But our fundraisers are held to those standards. And too often being denied the tools they need to succeed.
The thing is, an investment in fundraising could result in much higher returns!
Roger Craver calls this the investment paradox. Roger references a study by Giles Pegram. Giles set up a scenario where instead an organization invested in fundraising instead of stocks and bonds. The results? A 3 to 1 return for fundraising, rather than the usual .5 to 1 return.
Want to know more? The Agitator has a free guide to calculating investment comparisons.
Think about smart investments
I was thinking about investments recently when I met Sandra James. We’d connected online and decided to meet in person. Sandra is an SEO expert here in Connecticut. She works with businesses to increase their online profile, which results in more business for them. She’s confident enough to guarantee her results, too. (There are far too many variables for fundraisers to do that.)
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what Sandra and I would have in common. We soon found there was plenty – beginning with mutual friends.
But what was really interesting was a similarity between our businesses.
Clients are hesitant to invest.
I explained why the problem might be even bigger in the nonprofit world. We have a mindset of making miracles happen with no investment. Free is our favorite word.
As Vu Le would point out, we sit on broken office chairs. We Frankenstein together pieces of old computers so the intern has something to use. We try to substitute more hard work and staff time for money.
No wonder we burn out!
And no wonder so many of our organizations are living hand to mouth – one lost grant away from disaster.
Friends, I love free, too. I put together a list of great free resources myself.
I was a master scrimper and saver, convinced that there HAD TO be a way around every expense.
But we cheat ourselves in so many ways when we do that.
First, our people are truly our best resource. Wasting their time and energy foolishly is hurting our work. Paying them poorly means losing the best people – either because they’ll never work for you or because they can’t stay very long if they do.
And while there are some useful free resources out there (think Google’s office suite or Canva), there are resources you should plan to invest in.
Don’t cheap out on your donor management system, for instance. Find the best solution for you… not the least expensive one.
Think about the fundraising choices we make
We too often act not strategically, but looking at surface comparisons.
For instance, if you do a big event each year, do you count all the staff time invested in it when you look at the events ROI? (You DO at least look at that every year, right?) And do you create a plan to acquire new donors or get closer to current ones during and after the event?
It might be that you’re spending a great deal of useful staff time for small returns. “But we always do this!” is never a good answer.
Or have you ever had an appeal nixed because postage is too expensive? Or been steered toward email rather than mail for that reason – even if you know it’s not the best choice for your donors?
What a wise investment looks like will vary, depending on an organization’s assets.
Do you have a staff person who’s great with all things digital? (I don’t mean who knows how to create an email in MailChimp.) Who really understands SEO and Google ads and Facebook ads?
Great! Then you might not need someone like Sandra or my dear friend Heidi.
How about someone who can create compelling content and send it to the right people? Who can track results correctly?
Just because someone is under 30 doesn’t mean they instinctively understand social media.
If you’re relying on digital and you don’t understand it, then hire someone. Learn from them. When you’re ready to take off those training wheels, great.
Is your fundraising program built on habit or strategy?
Are you regularly measuring your results and the state of your donor base?
How about your communication with donors? Is it doing what you need it to be doing? Are your appeals moving donors to give? Do you have a donor newsletter? And if you do, are your donors so in love with it, they’re writing and calling to let you know?
Are your thank you letters corporate and robotic? Lacking any genuine gratitude?
If you’re seeing gaps there, hire someone like me.
When I first started fundraising, I was lucky. Our development director left a few weeks into my tenure. I had never done fundraising before. But along with the marketing director, I jumped in. One of the first things we did was hire consultants. That was smart.
We both learned. The consultants showed us how to properly track our results. They also introduced us to a professional copywriter. We planned a program using those resources.
Then we let them go and kept the program growing by ourselves. Because we didn’t need those training wheels anymore.
Fundraising is likely the most effective investment your organization can make.
If you’re the fundraiser, use the Agitators’ resource. Calculate the money you’re spending on your financial investments. Then calculate what you’ve been investing in your fundraising program.
Don’t talk about fairness. Talk numbers. Show them what investing in your program could mean for the organization and your mission.
It’s like you’ve read my mind. Thinking about all of these things as I delve into a new position.
Mary Cahalane says
Thanks, Tracie – always good to know there are like minds out there! Lots of luck with the new position.