“What Fundraising Activity Should We Cut?”

As a non-profit fundraiser, do you ever feel bombarded by “good” fundraising ideas?

You know how it goes… you develop a fundraising plan for the year, and your board approves it. Then, over the course of the year, it seems like everyone on your team comes up with new major projects:

  • The Executive Director wants to try a big new fundraising event
  • The Board Chairwoman suggests applying for a major grant, which will require 25+ hours to pull together
  • The program staff wants to hold a silent auction
  • Your largest donor calls, and suggests sending prospecting letters to a list of 1,000 businesses he came across

In the meantime, you are busy trying to implement the fundraising plan you wrote for the year… the one that is well-thought out, comprehensive and achievable. Of course, if you try to implement all of the ideas that your team is sending your way, you’ll never get everything done, and you’ll drive yourself crazy in the process.

What’s a fundraiser to do?

Explain the Plan and Ask a Simple Question

I have personally faced this situation more times than I care to count, and have worked with dozens of fundraisers in the same position. My suggestion to them, and to you, is to do the following:

First, explain that your organization has a well-crafted fundraising plan that will allow you to reach your fundraising goals for the year. Update the person giving the suggestion on how the plan is proceeding, and what major tactics you are using. Thank the person for their suggestion, and let them know that you will keep it in mind as you write the fundraising plan for the following year.

Then, if the person pushes you to use their idea – this year (or worse… this week!) – ask them a simple question: “What fundraising activity should we cut from our current plan?”

Explain that in order to fit in a new activity, you will need to cut out a currently planned tactic. If you’re going to spend 25 hours writing a new major grant proposal, you’re going to have to cut out 25 hours’ worth of activities that are in your current plan. Likewise, if you are going to spend weeks setting up a new event, you’re going to have to cut out other events, mailings, networking meetings, etc.

Limited Time and Resources

Most of the people who are giving you fundraising suggestions mean well – they want you to raise more money because they believe in your non-profit’s mission. So handle them gently. That’s why I suggest telling them that you’ll consider their suggestion for the coming year.

When someone pushes you to implement their suggestion immediately, however, it is because they don’t realize that your fundraising time and resources are severely limited. They also likely don’t understand that you have a full schedule based on your comprehensive fundraising plan. If you are going to add new strategies, then you are going to have to cut out old strategies (or hire new fundraisers to increase the capacity of your team).

Of course, this is only true for substantial new projects, and shouldn’t be used in good conscience for small add-on tasks. (For example, if you board decides to send out save the date cards to every donor over $100 this year, instead of every donor over $250, it is highly unlikely to be a “this or that” decision). No one wants to work with someone who is constantly saying “that’s not my job” or “we can’t possibly do that.”

On the other hand, your non-profit needs to raise money but has a finite number of resources and staff members, and you are doing a disservice to your organization if you are trying to do too many things in a mediocre fashion, instead of focusing on the things that are really moving your non-profit forward.

Photo Credit: Lee Lilly