When it Comes to Fundraising, Go for Big Wins… Not Small Savings

Most development offices are resource-starved. They don’t have the money or manpower to do everything they want to do, so they have to make choices about where to focus their efforts.

For most fundraisers, I would estimate that about 75% of that time and effort necessarily involves maintaining the status quo… making sure that this year’s big event raises a couple more dollars than last year’s, and that our big donors give a little more this year than last year. These activities keep our programs active and our fundraising stable in light of inflation.

Like I said, most of us spend at least 75% of our time just maintaining that fundraising status quo. That only leaves 25% of our time and energy for everything else.

How do you spend that 25%?

In my experience, lots of fundraisers (especially development directors and other fundraising managers) spend a lot of that 25% on trying to control costs and achieve savings in fundraising. They spend 20 hours on the phone trying to get flowers, entertainment and linens for the next event donated in-kind to the organization, and another 4 hours trying to figure out if they can cut costs by culling their mailing list.

The net result of all this cost-cutting, penny-pinching, and attempted savings is a couple of thousand dollars extra for the non-profit each year, and peace of mind when the board treasurer grills us on our budget projections for the year to come.

What this push for savings and cost-cutting doesn’t do, though, is move your organization forward in any real way. It doesn’t help you leap forward in your revenue, accomplish big things, or help more people.

Going for the Big Wins

When I work with an organization that has big plans, I encourage them to stop focusing on saving every penny they can, and instead focus on going for the big wins. I show them that they probably can’t do both, at least not very well. They have to decide whether they are going to use that 25% of their time on small budgetary wins or large fundraising wins that will really move their non-profit ahead.

In my mind, the right answer is always to spend that 25% focused on the big wins.

Think about it… using our example above, let’s say someone at your organization spends 20 hours every year trying to get stuff donated in-kind for your big events. Let’s say that they’re really successful. Let’s assume (and this is a big assumption) that they are so skilled that they get $15,000 worth of stuff given to your organization in-kind every year.

Now, imagine what this skilled fundraiser could do if they spent those 20 hours focused on upgrading your mid-level donors to major donors by meeting with them in person. Or if they spent those hours asking your largest donors for referrals to new prospects.

Imagine if your fundraisers were focused on big wins like a new major gift or finding new, capable board members, instead of spending their time trying to wring a couple of extra dollars out of your vendors, or worried about whether they can spend $100 taking a donor out to lunch.

Of course, I’m not saying that non-profits should be reckless with their spending. We have a duty to our donors to be good stewards of their money. But so many organizations are so scared of spending money that they miss the big picture truth: a new $10,000 donor will have far more positive impact for your non-profit, over the long run, than saving $1,000 on your travel expenses.

So… how is your fundraising team spending that 25%? If you’re not focused on big wins, now is the time to start.


Photo Credit: LadyDragonfly