Working with thousands of non-profits over my career, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what is most important to fundraising success. What's the secret sauce that makes seemingly similar organizations have such different results when it comes to raising money?
You've probably wondered the same thing. Perhaps you worked at a social service agency or school where the development program was growing and thriving. Then you moved over to another very similar organization, but where fundraising had plateaued. They both seemed to be doing the same thing, and both had a staff that really cared. So why was one finding so much more success than the other?
The Answer is: One Was Full of Fundraising Entrepreneurs
There are lots of things that are important if you want to build a great fundraising program:
Your strategy is important – you need to have a great fundraising plan in place and implement it successfully.
Your donor message is important – you need to have a great case for support that is emotionally compelling and makes donors want to give.
Your tactics are important – you need to make sure you're running events the right way, sending out compelling letters, and making great asks.
But ultimately, the real secret sauce that makes some fundraising programs stand out from the rest is that the best development offices are full of fundraising entrepreneurs.
What is a Fundraising Entrepreneur?
In my mind, there are three key qualities that make someone a fundraising entrepreneur:
#1: A fundraising entrepreneur is someone who takes ownership and responsibility for outcomes.
They say, “I'm going to find three new board members,” and they do it. Far too many non-profit fundraisers are focused only on activities (“I'm going to call 7 people who might be good for our board”) rather than being focused on figuring out a way to meet outcome-based goals.
Taking responsibility for hitting goals and meeting outcomes takes critical thinking, a willingness to pivot when necessary, and a willingness to stick to the task even when facing downturns.
#2: A fundraising entrepreneur is someone who thinks big.
The best non-profit fundraisers are like the best for-profit entrepreneurs: they're always thinking big. It's hard to get someone to invest major dollars into your organization if your goal is to increase services by 2%. It's much easier to get a major donor interested in a new wing on your school or a new push to increase your program so that 100% of people who need your services can access them.
Of course, not every ask you make will be for a new building or a new major program. But no matter what you're fundraising for and no matter what tactic you are using – you can still be thinking big about your fundraising. Non-profit entrepreneurs cast big visions for their donors and get donors excited about their work.
#3: A fundraising entrepreneur is someone who takes risks.
Most non-profit fundraisers I know are great people… they do good work and are passionate about the mission of their organization. Most non-profit fundraisers I know are also very risk-adverse. They are worried about trying anything too out of the ordinary, or setting too big of a goal, because they don't want to fail. Yet, your non-profit needs you to be a risk taker. It needs you to be willing to try new things and come up with new ideas, because your non-profit needs to raise more money than ever before.
Fundraising entrepreneurs spend less time saying, “it can't be done,” and more time saying, “I'm going to figure out a way to make this work…” Fundraising entrepreneurs think bigger, which means taking on new projects and trying new strategies, even if some of those new projects end up in failure.
Your Non-Profit Needs More Fundraising Entrepreneurs… Like You!
Every non-profit – including yours – needs more fundraising entrepreneurs. Every non-profit needs fundraisers who take ownership for outcomes, who think big, and who take risks. The only way to become a fundraising entrepreneur is by being deliberate about it… and by practicing. The more you are willing to set big goals and take responsibility for driving them forward, the more your non-profit will thrive.
If you're a fundraiser, now is the time to step up. If you're a non-profit Executive Director or board member, now is the time to create a culture of fundraising entrepreneurship at your non-profit… a culture where thinking big and taking ownership of outcomes is cherished and rewarded.