successful fundraising

The question came again yesterday – a non-profit leader asked, “How can we possibly fundraise in this semi-pandemic environment?” My steadfast answer is a question in return, “How can you possibly consider not fundraising right now?” 

To be more direct, your organization must fundraise, especially now. Even more than that, your non-profit should actually look forward to fundraising now. Generosity abounds during these times. Despite personal hardships, tough lifestyle decisions, and so on – people want and need to feel like they are helping, like they are part of something bigger. People need a point of light for which to focus during stressful times, and quite often, generosity is that point of light. 

As evidence, my firm’s clients are seeing near-universal success in increasing their fundraising results. While we’re collectively proud of these results, the examination of commonalities among our clients reveals a deeper, more thoughtful response. What are those commonalities that ensure successful fundraising? Here are a few:

1. They See Opportunity

No matter how restricted organizations are from advancing their mission right now due to social distancing, successful organizations find a way to do their best under the current conditions. The really successful ones move beyond that and actively seek out opportunities that are unique and meaningful to those they serve, right here and right now. 

2. They Take an “Essential” Viewpoint of Their Organization

If there is one phrase we’ve all heard over the past several months, it’s “essential workers.” The government has its definition, and the successful non-profits should have theirs, too. Do you believe your non-profit is essential? If yes, then define it. Why is your organization necessary? Why now? Tie your answers to your mission and recommit to it in writing. Don’t let any other source tell you whether or not your non-profit is essential.

3. They Adapt

We all think about the excuses, and some lean into a “can’t-do” attitude. Organizations that are successfully fundraising go in the opposite direction. They ask, “What can we do?” and “How can we deliver on our mission?” and, “How can we affect our community even with the limitations?” Successful non-profits ask good questions…and they get good answers to help them adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

4. They are Organized

Non-profit organizations with successful fundraising programs are organized. They recruit a team of askers and a team of stewards. They write a brief plan and timeline to guide the work. They build a solid case that reflects who they are, what they do, why they do it, and who they can benefit, especially in the current situation. They create an adaptable pathway for success, and they prepare the way to move forward.

5. They Communicate Value

It’s very easy to create messaging based on your organization’s needs right now, but to do so is a mistake. Every business, every organization needs money, customers, patrons, and investors. Needs-based fundraising is not distinctive, not attractive, and not encouraging to philanthropy. Needs repel investors, but value attracts them. When communicating with stakeholders, non-profits are focused on outward value and impact, not internal shortages and needs. Develop a case statement focused on who benefits from your organization today, and who will benefit from it tomorrow, and you are setting a proper tone, even in difficult times.

6. They Steward

Successful fundraising programs are built on donor stewardship as much as requests for support. Acquiring donors is important, yet keeping them is even more critical. Communicate, update, invite, and show genuine care for your donors. Provide positive information and ask for feedback. Invite them into the conversation and make them part of the story. RSC works mostly with arts organizations, and even in today’s world, we see genuine creativity to involve donors. But you don’t have to be an arts organization to be creative and engaging. What do you do that is meaningful? How can you show donors firsthand? Even if it is “virtual” and not in-person. Board members are terrific resources for providing donor stewardship, so ask them to take ownership of the process. 

7. They Ask

It should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Successful organizations are asking all the time! Yes, even when they don’t have all of the answers figured out related to pandemic recovery. Yes, even when they are operating marginally as compared to their norm. Yes, even when they don’t know when the situation will improve. Successful organizations push through the unknowns, and they ask anyway…and they ask personally, not via letters. Donors expect it, many of them appreciate it, and most want to be on the journey with you. 

If your organization needs help focusing on fundraising opportunities, visit RSC’s Fundraising Rebound Resources page, part of our complimentary collection of recent articles, webinars, and information to learn more about how you can achieve Fundraising Growth NOW!

Robert Swaney
A highly sought-after authority on fundraising growth for arts and cultural organizations, Bob leads an extraordinary team of consultants who coach clients using his fundraising growth system. Since 2006, Bob has successfully shared his system with organizations across the country, including many top-tier orchestras and opera companies. With his nearly 30-year career in arts fundraising, Bob regularly participates as speaker or panelist for industry-related conferences and serves on the boards of several arts and education organizations.