To raise money in a competitive environment, you not only need a compelling mission (e.g. reason), but also the savvy to prove why you are worth donating to again and again. Here are common subliminal and overt actions/messages that can keep you from successfully raising more.
1) The Board of Directors (Trustees) and/or senior staff members do not contribute to their organization. Can you spell Vote of No Confidence? If the people who know and love the organization the best don’t give, why would anyone else? People do look for this in annual reports, and some foundations/corporations actually ask for the percentage of the Board that makes cash donations.
2) No culture of philanthropy has been developed. What does this mean? It means that the Board of Directors does not have clear expectations of members giving, and have not incorporated giving into their actions or discussions when bringing in new members. It means customers/clients/consumers (or other stakeholders) are not asked to give, for any reason – including they have low-incomes. Big mistake. Study after study show that people with less wealth are the most generous givers. It also means that instead of everyone associated with an organization raising money, usually the organization expects just the paid fundraiser(s) to do it, reducing their overall potential reach.
3) Executive Directors do not hire qualified development staff. Not everyone can manage a nonprofit program, be a social worker, or raise money effectively. It is a profession, and you truly get what you pay for. Paying for quality staff will avoid lots of turnover, donor ill will, and generate more money making you look like a genius for a smart investment in personnel.
4) Related to not hiring qualified fundraisers is not hiring enough of them, and/or using fundraising staff for non-development activities. To make more, you have to invest more. This can be a gradual increase as more money is raised, or utilize a combination of staff positions and consultants, but the initial investment has to come first, before the dollars yield follow.
5) Do you only thank donors once? If you think a thank you letter or email is enough, think again. To successfully steward that donor, they have to feel like heroes who have done something great by donating to you. Think of ways to reach and thank them, at least five times per gift. Yes, that takes time, creativity, and enough staff!
6) Your communications to donors are all about you, not them. People are busy. They tend to read only headlines and look at photos, UNLESS the topic is germane to their work or their personal interests. Make all communications interesting and donor centric and count the difference in dollars at the end of the year.
If you don’t follow these best practices, rest assured that the numerous other savvy nonprofits out here will, taking your contribution share away when times get tough. If you need an outside eye to review your donor communications for effectiveness, don’t hesitate to contact me.