Improved Fundraising Results – For Free
By Tom Brady, MFINZ, CFRE
The perpetual challenge for a fundraiser is to get more money, but not to spend too much getting it. When faced with this reality everyday, a good fundraiser will seek knowledge and tools to increase their effectiveness.
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes our company’s most satisfying visit to a nonprofit organisation is when we are brought in to help but find they don’t need us. And even when we are needed, most of the time there are things they can do immediately, for free, that will have a positive outcome.
Based on the discussions we regularly have with front-end fundraisers, here are six easy steps to self-improvement. These are the things you should remember to do before spending money.
1. Love Yourself.
Quite a number of organisations either don’t know or have forgotten what makes them great. Many communications seem built on a message of justification — almost as if donors need to be offered something for their support.
Your main offering should be your impact. What are the stories about how you and the donor have made a difference? Aren’t they extraordinary?
Your loyal supporters want to feel they are part of what you do — not just be your cheer team. Their money translates directly into the impact you have on a purpose they hold dear.
You don’t have to start from the position of selling. People will not support you unless you value what you do. Others already do. Build on that.
2. Know Yourself.
If you have any history at all then you have a group of people who have already chosen to support you. Do not view donors as ‘them.’ Donors are ‘us,’ in your context. So know who ‘we’ are.
Some fundraisers look at the size or nature of their current support base and see it as a negative. I believe many industry suppliers actually promote ‘glass-half-empty’ fundraising. Anything in your glass is valuable. Until you act on ‘us’, don’t look outside to ‘them.’
For example, it’s not a weakness if your donors are predominantly older people. Does it really matter if you can’t get Gen Y to follow you? The older group generally has more time and more wealth to offer (and over 50s have always been the biggest givers). It is also a steadily growing group, and you can influence the stream of new ‘members’ with the norms of the existing group.
The way forward, therefore, is to ask those who already give (money and time) what fundraising activities have been successful for them and why they choose to give. Also, consider asking what else they might be prepared to do in support.
3. Don’t Mine, Greet.
So you now recognize recognise you have loyal supporters who you need to engage. Where do you start?
One of the messages that gets a little too much airtime is that there is always gold to be had if you mine your database. This may be true, but mining can be a lot of work for little return. For a start, it implies that most of your donors are just a layer of dirt.
More importantly, just because somewhere in your history a wealthy person made a donation, don’t assume they are that ‘into you.’ If you only discover them by ‘mining,’ they may not be the best place to start. There may be a good reason that they keep their head below the parapet. Consider saving that kind of cultivation for later. Make it the ‘winning lotto’ strategy — buy a ticket but don’t build your plans around it.
Instead, determine which supporters keep their heads firmly in sight. You’ll know those who are always in contact and who regularly engage. The odds are that from above ground level you will also see how they engage with other donors. These are the potential volunteer leaders — those who will feel valued about being asked to do more to help you.
So there’s your opportunity. Talk to them. Treat them as people rather than commodities. Ask them to help make plans. Then act on them.
4. Ask Your Friends.
One of the real challenges of fundraising is that everyone is an expert. It sometimes seems like every good idea you put forward is undermined by an ‘armchair expert’ who does not understand the latest trends or strategies from the fundraising world. But who really is the expert? In fundraising, the expertise we really need is from those who give to tell us about why they give. Therefore, that’s who we listen to first. The ‘fundraising experts’ might know how to work their tools, but those tools may be counterproductive to your situation.
Remember, too, that it’s easy to find good free advice. Fundraisers on the whole are generous with their time and expertise. One of the strengths of FINZ is that you have opportunities to talk to others who do what you do but differently. If something works for them, is it something you can learn from?
Likewise, seek mentors who have the experience to put your challenges into context. A good mentor will not tell you how to do anything but can help you explore what you might be missing.
5. Look for New Friends.
Nobody is an expert at everything. Whenever I hear anyone (myself included) ask a question that begins ‘How do we…’ the best answer is ‘Who do we know who could tell us that?’ Being a non-profit organisation is a licence to ask. I could tell you where to find a good layout artist, for instance, but wouldn’t it be better if you approached one in your own support community for help?
Effective fundraising is not about increasing database numbers, but about recruiting people of value. Some of that value may be access, or in-kind services and/or expertise. Once recruited, make them feel valued.
6. Trusts and Corporations are People, too.
Why is it that when we want to interact with a corporate or trust, the natural tendency is to communicate organisation-to-organisation through official media?
We talk with a lot of people who tell us that funding applications have failed and they don’t know why, or they don’t know how to form a relationship with a local supplier. All we ask is, ‘Have you talked with them?’ Nine times out of 10 the answer is ‘no.’ They want to know how to talk with them.
All organisations are made up of people, so use what you know. Every fundraiser knows how to talk with people. Use the same principle as above — look for new friends by seeking out individuals in these organisations, meeting them and talking with them. Start with those you know. And in doing so, take yourself back to Step 1 with them.