Creating Fundraising Systems for Your Nonprofit

Creating Fundraising Systems for Your Nonprofit
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This is a two part article on how to create fundraising systems for your nonprofit. In Part 1, we will talk about what fundraising systems are and why they are important for development. In Part 2, we will show you how to create systems at your organization.

One Seriously Stressed Out Nonprofit

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a nonprofit I once worked with. And this organization was in trouble. They had one full-time development director on staff, but everyone – including the staff, the board, the volunteers, even the donors – was constantly worried about fundraising.

They were worried about finding new prospects. So they tried everything in the book.

They were worried about making asks. So they constantly talked about it and stressed about it.

They were worried about donor communications. So every time someone had a good idea for a mailer, they sent one out.

Everyone at this nonprofit was constantly wringing their hands about raising money. It was all they could talk about, and yet it never seemed to be going well. They never had the money they needed, and they were never quite sure where it would come from. In short, this nonprofit lacked fundraising systems. Instead, they flew by the seat of their pants. And it resulted in stress, worry, and constant staff turnover.

What are Fundraising Systems?

Fundraising systems are, in their simplest form, plans of action for your development office. They lay out (systematize) the steps your nonprofit will take for each of the most important activities you engage in. Your nonprofit’s fundraising plan lays out the overall strategy for your fundraising activities, while your fundraising systems are the step-by-step process you follow each week, month and year to carry out that plan and meet your goals.

There are lots of different fundraising systems your nonprofit can (and should) have in place:

  • A prospecting system
  • A cultivation system
  • A thanking system
  • A board fundraising system
  • A stewardship system
  • A referral system
  • A communications system
  • And so on…

Why Are Fundraising Systems Important?

Establishing fundraising systems at your nonprofit is one of the best investments you can make in your organization’s long-term success. Fundraising systems allow your staff to do more work with less hassle. Very few nonprofits have the resources they need to fundraise the way they truly want to. Systems bridge the gap and allow few people to do more work with less financial investment.

If you are a small nonprofit with no full time development staff, fundraising systems can help your program staff and executive director raise more money in less time, until you can afford a full-time fundraiser.

If your nonprofit has a full-time development staff, fundraising systems can help your team reach new prospects and carry out new activities without the need to hire more staff or rely on more volunteers.

Now, let’s take a look at a step-by-step formula you can use at your organization to build the fundraising systems you need to thrive.

Part 2: Establish Strong Fundraising Systems in Your Organization.

The 4 Ingredients for Strong Fundraising Systems

In order to create strong fundraising systems, you need to remember these key ingredients which will make your systems successful:

#1 – Take the People Out, if Possible

First, wherever possible, automate your processes by taking people out of the equation. For example, if your system calls for a thank you call to be made to every donor within 7 days of their gift, have your database set to automatically print out a call list for your development director once per week.

Similarly, if your social media system calls for you to post a new tweet every day, pre-load your tweets into HootSuite or a similar Twitter scheduling program on Monday so that they automatically get sent out once per day for the rest of the week.

#2 – Take the Thought Out, if Possible

One of the best ways to make your systems efficient and to help you do more fundraising with fewer resources is to use your systems to set rules that take the thought out of your fundraising efforts.

For example, you can set up rules for fundraising events that say for your annual events, sponsors from the previous year will always get a letter three months before this year’s event asking them to upgrade by 10%. This way, you won’t need to spend time arguing over how much to ask sponsors to renew for or when your renewal letters should go out.

#3 – Divide it Into Steps

Systems that make sweeping pronouncements without breaking work down into simple steps are unlikely to be successful. Thus, you don’t want a donor database system that says, “Donations will be entered into the donor database and the donor will receive a thank you letter.”

Instead, you want a system that says, “Donations will be entered into the database by the fundraising coordinator within 48 hours after their receipt. The database will automatically print out a thank you letter. If the donation is over $1,000 the Executive Director will sign the letter. Otherwise, the Development Director will sign the letter. The letter will be sent out in the mail on the following day.

#4 – Put it On a Calendar

Fundraising plans are worthless if they don’t have deadlines. Similarly, fundraising systems aren’t much good if they don’t include a calendar of activities. If you’re writing a social media system, mark down which days you will be doing activities on each of the online platforms you are on. If you are writing an events system, create a standard event calendar that shows when host committees will be put together, when invitations will be sent out, etc.

Figuring Out Which Systems You Need

The best way to figure out which fundraising systems are needed at your nonprofit is to sit down with your fundraising staff and volunteers and figure out how people are spending their time. What tasks are your team members working on every day? Every week? Every month? Every year? Any tasks and tactics that you do over and over again (even if it is on an annual basis) are ripe for systematization.

Some common fundraising systems that nonprofits put in place include: prospecting, cultivation, donor communication, donor stewardship, referrals, web and social media, fundraising events, direct mail, non-ask events, database and board giving.

Designing Your System (The Franchise Model)

Once you have decided on a group of fundraising strategies and tasks that you’d like to create systems around, it’s time to design the systems.

To borrow a phrase from the for-profit world, for each system you are designing you will want to create a “franchise model.” This means that you will want to write down the system in such a way that anyone at your non-profit can follow it. Your system needs to be replicable by anyone on your team.

Write your system down using simple steps and timelines so that it is easily understandable. You want to make sure that if for some reason you are not there tomorrow, a co-worker or volunteer could pick up the system and implement it right away without needing any further clarification.

Implementing and Reviewing Your Fundraising Systems

Whenever I create fundraising systems, I like to hold a meeting for the entire management and development staffs to review the systems and provide a timeline for implementation. Go slowly – if you designed 10 systems for your non-profit, implement one new system per week for 10 weeks to make sure your team gets the hang of each one.

Also, don’t be afraid to review your systems on a regular basis to make sure they are working and still make sense. You shouldn’t have any sacred cows in fundraising. If a system stops working, refine it or throw it out and create a new one. Keep what works, constantly refine the rest.

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