I have a message for all the young Fundraisers and smaller organizations out there.
Nobody gets their fundraising right the first time.
I say that because it’s easy to get discouraged.
As you start – as an organization starts – there is SO MUCH that you’re having to figure out. Not to mention, nobody got into this business because they desperately wanted to send letters and emails to people. 🙂
So, please know three powerful things…
- You’ve begun! That’s a LOT farther than most people get. Maybe they look the other way. Maybe they refuse. Who knows. But you started. From my perspective 30 years in, that’s a bigger deal than you think it is.
- Becoming effective is an iterative process. You start. You pay attention. You add another skill. You get better. You notice something else. You get a little better every month. That too is a bigger deal than you think it is.
- The whole way, you’re helping your cause and you’re helping your donors. You’re helping the cause by raising awareness, and raising money, so that more good gets done. You’re helping donors because they care – but they don’t have programs like you do, so they can’t do much by themselves.
That’s a lot of good. You could be spending your time marketing bags of chips. Instead you’re helping make change.
It’s not easy. (If it were easy, we’d all be raising tens of millions of dollars and have six-pack abs.)
So keep going. Keep iterating. Keep practicing.
And thanks for being a Fundraiser!
Last Thursday’s post about mistakes got me to thinking…
Mistakes and disasters in fundraising are rarely fatal.
I’ve been part of a lot of mistakes and bad breaks over the years. (Which I think is true of anybody who has been in fundraising for any length of time.)
Just look at this partial list:
- The Anthrax Scare of 2001 – When poisonous anthrax was mailed to random people that October, everyone in America was afraid to open their mail, and donations through the mail just… completely… stopped.
- The Great Reply Card Swap – An appeal letter was sent out with a reply card for a completely different nonprofit. And that other nonprofit? Their donors received the reply card for the first nonprofit. Good times!
- Awkward Typos – When tens of thousands of donors were supposed to be asked to help “fill the pantry” at the rescue mission, and instead were asked to “fill the panty.” And as mentioned last week, when donors were supposed to be asked to “sign the enclosed placemat and return it with your gift“ were instead asked to “sign the enclosed placenta and return it with your gift.”
- The Host Who Eternally Lapsed – When the famous person you’ve hired for $50,000 to host the donor acquisition TV show… unfortunately passes away a couple months after filming. So you have to pull the shows off the air, reschedule the media buys, and reshoot all their portions of the program.
- The Poorly Timed Acquisition Campaign – When you launch a national donor acquisition campaign with TV spots, direct mail buys and print magazine ads… right as the 2007 great recession/subprime mortgage started.
All of these left a mark… but none were the massive blow that the organization initially feared.
I think the lessons are to control what you can control. Know that mistakes are going to happen. Send out more fundraising (having fewer fundraising pieces is risky because you’re more reliant on the performance of any one piece).
Donors are generous – they want to give. And it’s inspiring to see how nonprofits are resilient on behalf of their beneficiaries or cause.
If you have some control or influence over fundraising at your organization – please take a minute to read this.
Maybe you’re the Executive Director, or a Board member, or the Head of Programs. But you have some “say” over your fundraising strategy, content and language.
Here’s what I want you to do:
Let your Fundraiser try something new every once in a while. Even something you don’t like.
There are three main reasons you want to do this…
- No one piece of fundraising is going to make or break your year. So it’s fine if you try something new every once in a while, even if you’re a small organization. Most nonprofits overestimate the importance of any one particular piece of fundraising.
- If a smart Fundraiser doesn’t get to try new things every once in a while, they will likely leave. One of the reasons nonprofit fundraising has a massive turnover problem is that Fundraisers are told they will be responsible for the fundraising – and usually told they need to raise more money than last year – but also must take all of the advice from non-Fundraisers. Would you thrive in that environment?
- For your organization to raise a different amount of money, you must communicate differently than you have in the past. Put another way, your current communication plan and messaging are perfectly designed to raise the amount of money that you raised last year. If you want to raise meaningfully more, you need to make meaningful changes.
If you don’t accept a little risk by giving your Fundraisers the freedom and leeway they need to make changes, you haven’t given them the freedom and leeway they need to achieve the fundraising goals.