Successful fundraising doesn’t just happen. No matter how amazing your mission is or how many people you are helping, your organization needs to be deliberate about how it funds its work.
Great fundraising requires a mindset shift. Most fundraisers make the mistake of doing certain things just because other organizations are already doing them. They see other non-profits holding a gala here and sending out a letter there, and figure it must be working. Successful fundraising requires you to go beyond that – to understand the strategic mindset that will allow your fund development program to succeed.
In this article, I want to help you lay the foundation by explaining the 4 keys to a successful fundraising mindset. While there are lots of different tactics you can use to raise money for your organization, these 4 concepts are essential if you want your fundraising to thrive:
#1: Make Your Fundraising as Personal as Possible
Fundraising is all about building relationships with donors. That’s why successful fundraising means you need to be as personal as possible with your development activities. Far too many non-profits try to hold donors at arm’s length, sending letters when they should be visiting donors, or jotting off an e-mail when they should be picking up the phone to call the donor.
Of course mass communications have their place, and your organization should be using snail mail, e-mail, newsletters, etc. to reach donors. But if you want to build a successful fundraising program, your bias should be toward personal communications. Go out and visit with donors. Pick up the phone and give them a call. Write a handwritten note. Send a personalized e-mail.
#2: Emphasize Activity Over Planning
Successful fundraising is 5% planning, 95% doing. While it is important to have good fundraising, strategic, and program plans in place for your non-profit, it is far more important that your team is out meeting with donors and executing the plan.
Every consultant will tell you that when they walk into a development office, if the staff is all in their offices, staring at their computer screens, the organization has a culture problem. The best development offices are like the best sales teams… the staff is out meeting with donors, sharing meals with prospects, and calling supporters to cultivate them and make asks. Other staff members are focused on activity as well: working hard to get newsletters and annual reports out the door, process checks, and send thank you notes.
In general, successful fundraising programs put a great emphasis on activity over planning.
#3: Follow the Rule of 2-to-4
Having read the above, you may think that successful fundraising means that you should try everything and engage in every activity you possibly can. Not so. While great fundraising focuses on activity, it also focuses on the right activities… and most non-profits are trying to implement too many strategies to be successful.
For most small and mid-sized organizations, I recommend following what I call “the rule of 2-to-4.” This means that every category of activity, you only focus on doing 2, 3, or 4 things and making sure you do them well.
Thus, when it comes to prospecting, you implement 2-to-4 strategies for finding new donors this year. When it comes to cultivating, you concentrate on 2-to-4 strategies for communicating with and cultivating your donors. Your team focuses on 2-to-4 ways to ask for money, 2-to-4 ways to steward and recognize your donors, and 2-to-4 ways to utilize your board for fundraising.
Don’t try to do too much. Successful fundraising is focused fundraising. There are thousands of ways to raise money for your non-profit, but you don’t have the time, budget, or bandwidth to do them all well.
#4: Leverage Your Resources
One of the biggest secrets to super successful fundraising is leveraging your current resources into new fundraising opportunities.
Smart non-profits know that while cold prospecting (including telemarketing, direct mail prospecting, and online direct response marketing) can work (and in many cases work well), the fastest path to new mid-level and major donors is by leveraging your current supporters’ networks.
This means you should be asking donors and board members for referrals, asking friends of the organization to host non-ask events, and capitalizing on networking opportunities offered by friends of your non-profit.
Look for every opportunity to leverage your current supporters into new supporters, and to leverage the activities you are already engaged in to free up time for other development activities. One great way to leverage your resources is by creating fundraising systems for your donor processes, which will allow you to do more with less at your non-profit.
Successful Fundraising Requires Commitment from Your Non-Profit
As you can see from the four concepts above, successful fundraising may require a culture shift at your non-profit, and a commitment to doing things differently from how they have been done in the past.
Successful fundraising will mean that you need to focus on being more personal with your fundraising, that you spend 5% of your time planning, and 95% of your time doing. You’ll also need to be sure to leverage your resources and focus on the right activity, rather than trying to do everything with limited staff, budget, and time. The good news is that it’s worth it: more successful fundraising will lead to more successful programs, which in turn will allow you to help more people than ever before.