The vast majority of non-profits are struggling when it comes to fundraising. They may be raising enough money to keep their programs going, or even growing… but they’re doing it with too much stress, constant staff turnover, and constant friction in their development program.
I’ve worked with hundreds of small and mid-sized non-profits during my career, and for most of them, fundraising is a constant point of struggle. At many of them, the staff and board have a feeling that there’s a better way to fundraise, but they’re not quite sure what it is.
The reason that most non-profit organization struggle when it comes to fundraising is because they don’t have systems in place to make their fundraising knowable and scalable.
What Fundraising Looks Like at Most Organizations
At most non-profits, the fundraising program is based on a vague, generalized fundraising plan, but the actual development strategy is created on the fly. At these organizations:
- A brand new cultivation path is created for each new donor… meaning that every time a new prospect comes into the organization’s orbit, the staff tries to figure out the single best way to approach and cultivate the donor, even if no other donor is cultivated that way currently.
- Fundraising ideas are circulated among the staff, board, executives, consultants and donors… and when an idea builds up enough support (or support from the right places) it is added to the fundraising program. This is how brand new events, fundraising appeals, walk-a-thons, etc. are often started at these non-profits.
Because things are constantly changing, non-profit fundraising programs like this are constantly reinventing the wheel when it comes to donors, and the fundraising plan is always in flux. This leads to staff, volunteer, and donor burnout… and ensures that fundraising strategy is set by the loudest voices, not data-driven best practices.
The solution is to create fundraising systems for the non-profit that guide strategy and make things as “easy” as possible for the staff.
What is a Fundraising System?
A fundraising system is a development strategy that is both knowable and scalable:
- First, good fundraising systems are “knowable.” They make sure that no matter what type of donor you encounter, the staff knows exactly what to do with them. Depending on your organization, there may be systems for major, mid-level, and low-dollar donors… as well as systems for prospects acquired through different strategies. There may also be systems for fundraising events, online fundraising, direct mail and more.
- Second, good fundraising systems are “scalable.” This means that they can be used over and over again, no matter how many donors or prospects you are working with or how many events you hold, letters you send out, or meetings your staff attends.
For example, a small organization may have create a major donor prospect system that looks like this:
Identification > Call > Meeting > Follow-Up Letter > 2 Check-Ins > Cultivation Call > Ask Meeting
Thus, the organization would know, immediately upon identifying a new major donor prospect, what to do with that prospect… what “donor funnel” to use to move the donor (relatively quickly and easily) towards the first ask. (To see another example of a fundraising system in action, read What Does a Good Fundraising System Look Like?)
Having fundraising systems in place makes the development process simpler, and eliminates the guess work in your fundraising program. It operates under the 80/20 principle — 20% of your efforts will result in 80% of your fundraising results. So create fundraising systems based on those 20% of your tactics that produce 80% of your revenue, and resist the urge for constant customization. In my experience, that customization takes up 80% of your time, but only produces 20% of your revenue.
Fundraising systems matter for every non-profit. Putting strong systems in place will result in less staff turnover, less stress, and most importantly, more money to support your organization’s mission and vision.