Creating Fundraising Systems for Your Non-Profit (Part II)

In the first part of this series, we took a look at what fundraising systems are and why they are so important for every non-profit.  Now, let’s talk about how you can establish strong fundraising systems at 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 non-profit 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 non-profits 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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