In the nonprofit world, there are examples of successful fundraising strategies around every corner, and many examples of strategies that aren’t so successful.
A robust fundraising plan is diverse in its approach. It also makes the best use of the resources at hand for the organization involved. This means, in planning, one size rarely fits all.
The very best fundraising plans take into account the organizational calendar, the ebb and flow of the workload, the resources available, and the mission of the organization.
Here are few things to think about while launching into the very valuable process of creating a fundraising plan:
Know your audience
Who are your donors and prospective donors, and how would they like to be approached? They might be people who use your services, or who never have, but support the fact those services are available. Your prospective donors can be previous donors. They can also be current volunteers and leaders who are already giving their time and expertise.
When I outline prospective donors with my fundraising team, the highest priorities are those who have the closest relationship with our organization. If they’ll enthusiastically take our call, they rank high on the list. These are followed by people who have any other connection to the organization that we can quantify – the people who use our services, for example.
Capacity to give, while important, is too often given highest a more important rank than it deserves. But what if we can only guess at capacity? Someone who has gobs of money but no connection to the organization (and no reason to take our call) is not necessarily a good prospect.
I continually caution volunteers and professionals alike to avoid saying no on behalf of prospective donors, and I’m usually referring to capacity. The fact is, everyone has some capacity – think about the parable of the woman with just two coins. More importantly, everyone has the potential to be passionate about giving. If you don’t know whether someone has capacity, but they rank high on the other two areas (relationship and connection) maybe they should rank higher on your list.
I had a staff colleague once express disappointment with me for asking all my fellow staff members to participate in an employee-giving program. Participation was voluntary and anonymous.
“How can you ask this of Maria?” This person asked. Maria was a single mom with a new mortgage on a nonprofit secretary’s salary. It might be hard on her to give.
What this person couldn’t know is that Maria had given, and quite generously too.
She’d grown up utilizing the services of the organization and was enthusiastic about making sure those services were available to others who needed them. She was honored to give what for her was a substantial amount.
If I’d failed to ask because she didn’t appear to have capacity, I’d have denied her the opportunity to share in the joy of supporting an organization that meant a great deal to her.
Know your calendar
Within the programmatic year for any organization, there are times where a concerted development effort makes sense. If you run a youth camp, for example, you’ll want to connect with prospective donors who are interested in seeing children at camp – so the summer months may be busy cultivation months for your organization.
Many organizations take advantage of end of year giving. Some find the beginning of the school year an important time to get the attention of their donors. Look to your organizational calendar for logical opportunities to showcase your work to prospective donors rather than inventing more work for yourself and your staff.
Know your resources
I once had a volunteer who insisted we organize a golf tournament benefit. Her husband had participated in a golf tournament for another organization that was successful and fun. Had this particular volunteer ever golfed, or hung out in golfing circles? No. This would prove to be a particular handicap as she looked for ways to market the event and draw people in.
The strongest marketing tool is a team of people dedicated to spreading the information about your work or event on a one-on-one basis, and who can talk the talk. Secure table captains from previous events to fill tables at future such events. Get people who are enthusiastic runners to put together fun run teams, recruit sponsors and solicit prizes from others who are passionate about running.
One group I know does a pledged horse trail ride as a fundraiser for a health organization. They’re successful every year because the committee is made up of people who ride horses, who know other people who ride horses, how to market to them and what they consider a fun event.
If you have horse people or golfers, plan horse or golf events. Events aren’t rocket science, but struggling to understand the mind of a golfer or a horse person if you aren’t one is tedious. There are better ways to use your time.
Know your benchmarks
You know how much you raised last year in order to meet your needs. You should also be able to estimate to some degree what small tweaks here and there will do to this year’s bottom line. If you don’t, test small changes each year and evaluate.
Identify specific goals for each fundraising effort: annual giving, events, major gifts. Then identify the gap between what you made happen in the past and how that differs from what you want to happen this year.
Albert Einstein is widely credited with defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Don’t just plug a 5% increase into your annual giving goal, plan to do the same thing as last year, but see an increase. Make one or two deliberate and specific changes and then evaluate them at the end of the year.
If you’re a new organization, setting benchmarks or goals for the year might be difficult. Look to similarly sized organizations using similar tactics. Interview other fundraisers – what’s possible in your community with the right resources?
The benefits of planning and managing new opportunities
Having a solid fundraising plan will not only be more likely to be successful, it will provide an additional benefit. You will have a firm grasp on your timeline, your resources and availability when the inevitable new fundraising or communication initiative comes your way.