I started my fundraising career at a large, research university that had a development staff that numbered in the hundreds. My days were completely filled with donor and prospect appointments where I was able to provide opportunities for these donors and prospects to support the university and, more specifically, the college for which I worked.
Flash forward a few years, and I was the first development director of a very small nonprofit and where I was the only staff charged with raising money. In contrast to my days at the university, I was now going to staff meetings, developing collateral materials, representing the agency at service clubs and the like, and when I was directly involved in development it was like as not entering names on the database, recording gifts received, writing thank you letters, direct mail appeals and/or grants and responding to my board members desire for more and larger events. In my spare time, I tried to meet with individual donors—but truth to tell, that happened less and less as time went on.
For me, it was frustrating. I was dancing around fundraising, but I wasn’t raising a whole heck of lot of funds.
What I learned from that first job as a one-person office (a situation I had several more times over the years), was that I needed to be very clear what my priorities were and to focus on the important—those things that need to be done to meet our goals. And to do that, you must know what your goals are—how much you have to raise and how you are going to raise those funds.
As a fundraiser, that meant I needed to focus on the steps that move people and organizations from a possibility to a contributor: identifying who I should be working with to how I could engage them, ask for support, and then ensure they saw on a regular basis how their support makes a difference.
There are seven things that are critical to a successful fundraising program. Let’s look at these—briefly–one by one:
1. The first is ensuring that you have a great reason for your donors to support you. Now the thing about this is that the reason for them to contribute—your case for giving—will vary for different donors. Few, however, will care about your activities unless they care—passionately—about your cause and the impact of what you do. In developing your case, focus on your outcomes and show your prospects and donors how they can make a difference that matters to them. They are not funding a pre-school teacher—they are ensuring that every student entering kindergarten knows the alphabet and can count up to ten. Your shelter doesn’t just provide hungry people with food and the homeless a place to sleep, it helps to restore lives, offers the future to those who thought they didn’t have one, it helps people change their lives and the lives of others in your community.
2. Having a great case, of course, matters not at all unless you have prospects—those people or organizations who you have reason to believe have the ability to make a gift, the interest in and an inclination toward supporting what you do—and most importantly, is someone or some organization that you actually can get an audience with. If any of those key points are missing—you have a suspect. Suspects can be turned into prospects, but the process may be very long, and as a one-person office, remember to spend your limited time on the things that are probable. Unless you don’t have any prospects, limit the time you spend on suspects, even suspects who are very wealthy and who your board is constantly suggesting you cultivate.
3. Finding those prospects is critical for your successful fundraising program. Most of those will be people you already know—or are contacts of your board members, other volunteers, staff, and donors. As a one-person office, you need to concentrate on those two inner circles. The larger community—like the suspects we talked about—should be on your back burner.
4. Even in your inner circles, you need to figure out where your focus should be. Here’s where your donor database is really important. Bloomerang can run reports for you that will show you who your likely larger donors are. Beyond those who have already made larger gifts, you want to reach out to your loyal donors—those who regularly support you. And if that support has been coming via a direct mail appeal, attendance at your special events, a great use of your time would be connecting more personally with them.
Another group you want to consider is people who have suddenly increased their annual donations. Someone who has for years and years made a $50 and suddenly ups that to $125, is someone you want to talk to—as soon as possible. My largest individual gift ever came from a gentleman who gave $35 a year for over 10 years, then suddenly sent in a check for $250. Not large, but a huge percentage increase AND he was a loyal donor. To make a long story short, when I called on him I found that he had just sold his business and was awash in appreciated stock that his CPA informed him was going to cost a fortune in taxes—unless he did something. That something was a gigantic gift to my organization.
5. Once you’ve identified prospects, you need ways to engage them. But if you don’t have a large database or a board who can or will introduce you, you can use many of the same techniques for engaging identified prospects in order to identify additional prospects.
On this list are a number of ways you can both cultivate and prospect—for example, house parties can be used as a way to cultivate prospects, moving them to the next step. And, if you have a donor or a board member who has a fabulous home and/or a fantastic contact list, their house party will serve to identify new prospects and begin the cultivation steps. Send congratulation letters to people who have just gotten promotions at companies in your geographic area and by the way, invite them to an open house. Social networking is also important. While it is not –perhaps yet—a way to raise serious dollars for most organizations, it is more and more becoming a way to seriously engage prospects and donors as well as a wonderful way to bring others to your organization.
6. Whatever you do as a one-person office, you must consider effectiveness—that is, the number of yesses you get relative to the number of asks. And the reality is, the closer you get to your donors, the more likely they are to say yes. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do things that can touch large numbers of your prospects—just that you will spend less to raise more the more personal your effort.
And no matter what fundraising techniques you are using, make sure that they are meeting your needs and goals. Don’t, for example, spent time and money putting on an event if what you really need is larger gifts to support the work you are doing or want to get done. Do, however, have a good mix of techniques so you can work with your donors in a way that will be meaningful to them.
7. Good fundraising also requires active and engaged volunteers. Indeed, successful fundraising can best be defined as the right person asking the right prospect for the right amount at the right time for the right project in the right way. Your volunteers—especially your board—are very likely to be the right person as well as the repository of the right information that will help you to get all those other rights, well…right.
OK, but how do you—the one person in the development office—get all this done?
Way back at the beginning of this blog, I talked about urgent and important. It is critical that you are keeping track of the important things you must get done in order to effectively fundraise, and one of the best ways to do this is to develop a number of measurements that will help keep you on track.
Too often we are measured by the amount of money raised. I’m not a big fan of that metric—I prefer measuring the right activities because I know that dollars will follow these activities. The first step in developing your metrics is understanding what you need to accomplish this year—how much money must be raised and what it will take to raise those funds. How many prospects, at what levels, do you need to identify? How many meetings will you need to have with those prospects in order to be able to solicit? How many solicitations will it take to get the gift?
These measurements will be the way you will check on yourself to see if you are doing what you need to do—and spending your limited time in the right places.
To make sure you are spending your time wisely—you will need to develop an annual calendar, and make sure you are putting in all those important things (and keeping them from becoming so urgent you can hardly take a breath). And yes—calendar everything. As a consultant, I need to track my time and activities for my clients. It’s something I hate to do, and unlike lawyers and CPAs, I’m not often at my desk. In fact, living in LA, I’m mostly in my car. Twice a week, I have “HOURS” written on my calendar, so I make sure that I do the tracking necessary to keep my clients happy.
Also important is documenting every move you make with your prospects and donors. When I was a fundraiser, I took pride in knowing that if I left my job suddenly, my successor could easily see what I had been up to and could pretty seamlessly continue cultivating and stewarding our donors.
Call reports should be filed for every contact you have, both documenting what happened and—most importantly—what you next step is. And then, go back to your calendar, and put that step in!!!
Finally, for major donors make sure you have a moves management plan. Bloomerang can help you with your major gift program—it’s simply a way to figure out how best to move a prospect toward making a gift—and to getting all those rights we talked about a few slides back—in place.
Above all, as you try to get things done, remember to simplify. For the one-person office, less really is more. Focus on where you will have the best return on investment of time. That means doing the things that bring you closer to your donors, which will bring you closer to your fundraising goals.