Recently, I was asked by Reflection Films to discuss how fundraisers can be more efficient and improve their odds for success. The results follow.
Q. How should busy fundraising professionals spend their time for maximum return?
A. It will vary a little by industry sector, but a fundraiser can never go wrong by spending more time deepening relationships with existing donors. A nonprofit organization must continually acquire new donors to offset those that leave the area, die off, etc., but the bulk of fundraising dollars will come from existing donors. So we need to deepen our relationships with them and our organization’s mission to increase the size of their gifts.
That said, I would recommend doing a good job in a few areas of fundraising concentration, such as major gifts and direct mail appeals, or foundation grants and special events, rather than trying to do everything without enough staff capacity. There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to ask for money.
Q. What is the right and wrong way to ask for money?
A. I will give you two examples. Example 1: I recently received an email from an organization with which I was not familiar. We had no prior relationship. This group found my email on a business website, and emailed me a pitch. The email started off “Dear Barbara:” which just reiterated that they didn’t know who I was, and didn’t even have the right name! So the ask wasn’t tailored to me and my interests, but rather a cut and paste spam job.
Did this group get anything from me? I deleted the email. This was the equivalent of a cold call. They had no idea about me, my needs or my interests, so they ended up wasting both of our time.
Example 2: A former client of mine sent a lovely handwritten note, thanking me for all my past support and help, and giving a brief overview of their new initiative. She asked if she could call in the near future to take me out for coffee and ask for advice about growing the initiative.
Did I take her follow up call? You bet. Did she get additional money to support the initiative? You betcha.
Q. How do you improve your odds for raising money?
A. You have to know your audience — the individual(s) or foundation(s) from which you seek money. If an individual is very charitable to health organizations, but not interested in arts/culture, than you aren’t going to convince them otherwise to fund your theatre. Same with foundations. If their priorities don’t match yours, then don’t waste their time, it will not be a successful application. You really need to research potential donors and target your message accordingly, and then follow the rules/directions for an ask.
Also many special events like 5K runs that attract people who may not care one whit about your cause, but show up just to run, are one-off dollars. It is very hard to build a donor base of consistent givers invested in your mission with this kind of fundraising strategy.
Q. When should nonprofits hire a consultant versus hire their own inside person?
A. From a cost perspective, a proposal writer should bring in two to three times their salary and benefits to support the organization. So many smaller nonprofits who have the Executive Director or sole fundraising staffer writing proposals often call me for assistance. Larger organizations may need expert help from time to time on a certain type of funding application with which they do not have experience (e.g. government grant), or a certain peak volume time of year. For strategic planning, I always recommend hiring an outside consultant as facilitator, so that all staff and organizational volunteers can participate fully in the planning process.