This month exactly 10 years ago, I started my first job as a fundraiser! And from the beginning I was hooked. I love fundraising, because it enables change. Vision and passion combined with great fundraising enables important change. And as a fundraiser you play an important part in that change.
So, looking back over those 10 years, what did I learn? I’ve listed the most important strategic ingredients for a successful fundraising program. Ten years of fundraising experience summarized in one blog post. You only need 3:49 minutes of reading to catch up with 10 years. Now that seems like the bargain of the decade!
(A big thank you to all my fundraising colleagues from Médecins du Monde, Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace who made me the fundraiser I currently am. And a special thanks to Roger and John for the teachings in the early days!)
Fundraisers are gold. Quality fundraising staff makes all the difference. Without the right staff you can forget the rest of this blog post. And they need to come in numbers as well. So, both quality and quantity. It’s a big big (2x) shame that fundraising programs are slowed down by constraints in human resources.
Database as foundation. The biggest part of our income probably comes from direct mail and telemarketing campaigns. Without a reasonably functioning database you’d better go home. The next frontier: integrate your online and offline databases… Because everybody predicts a huge shift towards online fundraising in the future, we still need to keep measuring what we do and store our data.
Going the distance. A long term view on fundraising is key for the Life Time Value of your supporters. Nowadays we would like our supporters to stay longer than the first year. Read all about it in this popular blog post: “One-night stands ruin your fundraising”.
The right culture. Your Management Team and Board should not be against Fundraising. They should put fundraising on an equal level as the services your organization provides. This means they should dare to invest in both FTE and Euro on the short and long term. Heads of Fundraising should be in the MT. Board and MT should commit their time to the fundraising result. And above all, the threats or opportunities for fundraising should be taken into consideration (but not leading) when decisions are made with regard to the services provided.
RAI = Returns After Investment. Like any other business model where we want to earn money, we need to invest first. Sometimes even quite heavily. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as you know what you’re doing. We can minimize the risk as much as possible, but there is always risk. But without investment there will be no returns. And in general: less investment will result in fewer returns.
Nobody knows it all. Don’t work on your programs all the time. You’re never too old to learn, so go out and get that external view on things. Go to workshops, trainings and congresses or get your knowledge online! Create a professional network and keep in contact. Subscribe to this crowdblog and check out SOFII for showcases of fundraising innovation and inspiration…
Copy, paste & innovate. Why spend so much time on inventing a new engaging, ambitious and cutting edge campaign while you don’t even have some of the most proven techniques and programs implemented? On the other hand, always keep an eye (and budget) open for new angles and opportunities. Keep testing new stuff in your search for new acquisition and retention methods. Both offline and online.
Back to basics. Numero uno: Ask for money! If more emphasis was possible I would use it, because, in contrast what some board members might think, there is no line of wealthy individuals outside your office waiting to be approved by you to become a life time loyal donor. Another basic one often forgotten: get your processes and procedures up to 100%.
Try FRIENDraising. Fundraising exists because of supporters. They are more important than anything else. If you need help, you turn to your friends. In fundraising it’s no different. It’s all about relationship and donor loyalty. Treat your supporters as you would treat your friends and you’ll be a better fundraiser. And don’t forget to thank them. Please thank your donors! And your database will be as crowded as your birthday.
Love thy numbers. Fundraising is about warm relationships, but we express this affection in cold numbers, so crunch those numbers often, because they’ll tell you more than you think. How many of you have dedicated Fundraising Analysts employed? E.g. they’ll tell when attrition rates peak, so you know when to intervene…
The P for planning. If you don’t plan, you don’t know where to go and you’ll waste money, because efficiency is out the window. Writing a five-year-strategic or just an annual plan is a lot of work, but also extremely important to set the course you’re sailing. Check out this blog to see why the somewhat boring topic of annual plans is much more important than most fundraisers realize.
Image is everything. And everything is image. And while positive communication never hurts, bad publicity is always very negative. Image has a profound impact on your fundraising, now and the years to come. Professional, transparent and consistent communication wins in the end. Please don’t confuse awareness with a good image. And be good to the sector as a whole! Your dirty laundry or stupid communication can negatively affect the entire sector…
Priorities first. Like in any workplace you need to prioritize your activities. Why work on your Facebook marketing, while you don’t even have your social media or public engagement strategy in place? Or why have one full time staff member working on banner advertising, and recruiting 2% of all new supporters, while your high value relationship manager is screaming for more staff to simply say thank you to €10K+ supporters?
Communication & Fundraising. Everybody knows the never ending story of whether Comms and Fundraising should be part of the same department… well they should. For the obvious reason that Comms should not only be supporting the organizational mission, but also the fundraising objectives. Work together.
Tell the right story. Fundraising is about engaging our donors in the goals we’re fighting for. We don’t do that by reading them the Annual Report (which in most cases would be a good bed time story, by the way), but we transfer our important message in a personal story. Fundraisers are storytellers, so tell inspiring stories. And don’t tell the same story to a new supporter as you do to a supporter that has been with you for ten years. Have you mapped your supporter journey?
What it’s all about. In the end it’s all about your nonprofit’s cause and not about fundraising. High standard quality service provided in line with the organizational mission and vision is the best thing that could happen to your fundraising. And, if your organization is not doing a damn good job, would you want to work for them anyway?
These points are more or less the basic ingredients for a great fundraising program. At the same time, I’m also sure I haven’t covered everything, so please let me know what important strategic angle I’m missing here in the comments below.
Or if you want to congratulate me with my 10 year anniversary, I’d be happy to receive your congratulations. 🙂