Today, I’d like to talk about some of the most important basic fundraising principles that are applicable to every organization, and to every fundraising strategy. Even if you’re a seasoned development pro, take the time to work through these principles with us. You may find that you or your organization has gotten off-track with a few of them, and I can assure you that you will find some good, re-energizing ideas among these basic tenets:
Principle #1: Fundraising Is Everyone’s Responsibility
Because fundraising is so important to the success of your non-profit, it needs to be made clear to your entire board and staff that fundraising is everyone’s responsibility. Yes, you should have a Development Director or development team that spends 100% of their time fundraising (or, in smaller organizations without a development staff, an Executive Director who spends a significant portion of his/her time raising money), but everyone should have “assisting with fundraising” as part of their job description.
For your program staff, this means that they should be willing and able to help at fundraising events and with fundraising presentations like tours and roundtables (donors love to hear from the folks who are actually providing the services they are funding, instead of just the development staff). It also means that your program staff should constantly be on the lookout for fundraising opportunities in the course of their daily responsibilities.
Likewise, everyone on your board should be expected to help fundraise. This means making personal asks, selling tickets to events, and providing contacts for your fundraising mailing list. Yes, some board members will be primarily responsible for fundraising (such as your development or event committees) and some will not take a leading role with fundraising (focusing more on programs, governance, government relations, etc.) but everyone on your board should understand that they are expected to fundraise.
Because you are expecting your board and non-development staff to help with fundraising, and because these folks may not have a fundraising or sales background, it is imperative that you offer fundraising training to your board and entire staff on a regular basis. My suggestion is that you hold an annual board retreat that is 50% focused on vision, strategy, and programs and 50% focused on fundraising training and strategy. Likewise, I suggest that you hold at least one, if not more 1-2 hour fundraising training sessions for your program and administrative staff each year.
Does everyone at your non-profit understand that fundraising is part of their job description? Does everyone on your board help with fundraising?
Principle #2: The Best Fundraising Efforts are Scalable
Cultivating a prospect and making an ask takes time. If you only have one development person on your staff, there’s a limit to the number of new prospects he or she can contact or the number of asks he or she can make on a yearly basis. Similarly, writing grants, holding events, and sending out mail takes time.
No matter how many development professionals you have on your staff, there will never be enough time or resources for them to reach out to every person, business or foundation in your community for financial support. This is doubly true if you don’t have any full-time development staff and are relying on the Executive Director or volunteers to head up your fundraising efforts.
Getting your board, volunteers, and entire staff involved in your fundraising certainly helps, but it is still not enough. You’ll still need more help to raise the money you need to carry out your mission. That’s why the best fundraising efforts are scalable… meaning they are designed in such a way that you are able to re-create them over and over again while getting others to do your fundraising for you.
For example, one non-profit I know puts a special focus on getting board members and other friends of the organization to host fundraising events on their behalf. This non-profit has only one full time development staff member, who could never coordinate more than a couple of small fundraising events per year, given her additional work load.
So, the development director put together a “how to hold a fundraising event for us” guide, along with a set of pre-packaged materials like plug-n-play event invitations, an Evite template, and guidelines for putting together an event host committee. The organization uses this kit to help it scale its fundraising efforts, and last year held over two dozen small fundraising events around its region that raised 25% of the non-profit’s overall budget for the year.
Another example of a scalable fundraising effort is an affinity group. Many non-profits have found great success putting together “Young Friends of…” or “Doctors for…” or other types of affinity groups for their organization that go out and hold events and raise money on a volunteer basis. This allows the non-profit to spend time on other fundraising efforts while the affinity group multiplies its efforts by working in parallel on different fundraising projects.
How scalable are your fundraising efforts? Have you built affinity groups? Are you making it easy for other people to fundraise on your behalf?
Principle #3: Relationships = Success
The third basic fundraising principle that every non-profit needs to understand is that building strong relationships is fundamental to fundraising success. Fundraising is all about relationships. Sure, you can buy a direct mail list and send out a fundraising appeal and make money, but the real money comes on the back end, as you develop relationships with those donors who responded to your initial prospecting letter. Ditto for personal asks, foundation support, online fundraising… the real money is in the relationship.
Your development staff (and your board) should be in the relationship-building business. That’s why the fundraising funnel that we’ll talk about later is so important. The goal of your fundraising efforts should be to identify people who might want to donate to your organization if they knew more about it, and then to develop a relationship with them through cultivation activities. It is only after the relationship is built that an ask should be made… making an ask before there is a relationship might lead to a gift, but it will be far smaller than one that is made after the relationship is established.
Once a relationship is established and a gift is made, the non-profit will need to work hard at stewarding the donor to maintain the relationship in order to receive follow up donations, like annual gifts, bequests, etc.
Donors want to feel like a part of your team. When they do, they will be inclined to give again and again. Build relationships with your donors, and turn them into friends for life.