There are two constants in non-profit fundraising. They are:
(1) Every organization wants to raise more money, and
(2) Every organization is stretched thin on fundraising resources, including staff and budget
Because these two constants hold true in 99% of non-profits, every non-profit I have ever talked with feels like it has a ton of great ideas on how to raise more money, but is going crazy trying to do them all.
Whether your organization has one full-time fundraiser or twenty full-time fundraisers, chances are you wish you could be doing more, despite the fact that your team is running around trying to handle the events, mailings, asks, meetings and all of the other tactics called for in your fundraising plan.
The Truth of the Matter: Your To-Do List Will Never Be Completed
A long, long time ago, during my first real job out of college, I spent a lot of time trying to run around and get everything done. I kept a monumental to do list on my desk, and spent every spare moment worried about that list and trying to get everything finished. Of course, as soon as one task was completed, another would pop up and get added to the end of the list.
I was going crazy trying to get everything done, when an older and wiser colleague pulled me aside and said, “You know, your to-do list will never, ever be completed. The more talented you are, the more stuff will get put on your plate, and the more your list will grow, and grow. It’s ok to not get to everything on that list.”
To my younger self, that sounded like he was telling me to slack off, and I said so. But this gentleman meant something else entirely. He picked up the list, and selected a few of the items on it. He asked how much our organization would be impacted if these items were done well, with focus and speed. I told him that those items mattered deeply to our organization.
Then, he chose another few items from the list, things that were much more mundane. He asked how much our organization would suffer if those items were delegated to volunteers or simply not completed. The answer was that it really wouldn’t impact our bottom line if those things weren’t done.
The lesson was clear. “You can’t do everything on this list well, even if you’re here 12 hours a day, 6 days per week. You can either do everything quick and halfheartedly, while being stressed and fatigued, or you can do the things that really matter, and do them well… really knock them out of the park… and forget about the stuff that doesn’t matter.”
I chose the latter course of action, and it made all the difference, both in that job, and in my fundraising career.
The Secret Fundraising Weapon: Focus
No non-profit will ever be able to carry out all of the great fundraising ideas that its team can come up with. Every day, you’ll get suggestions from volunteers, board members, non-fundraising staff members, and from your own team. These ideas will run the gamut from who to call to an extra letter to send out to a new fundraising campaign that someone wants to launch.
The secret fundraising weapon that is possessed by the best fundraisers is as simple as it is powerful: focus.
Your organization should be focusing on what matters, and on what can really move the ball forward for your non-profit. If it’s true that 20% of your activities will result in 80% of your fundraising revenues, then focus on that 20%. Write a fundraising plan at the beginning of the year, and prioritize what really matters, leaving the rest for volunteers, or as part of a list of things that would be nice to do, but probably won’t happen this year.
What does it mean to really focus on what matters?
It means that your non-profit should be spending most of its time on individual donors, since that’s where most of the money is.
It means that when you hold a fundraising event, you should be focused primarily on finding large sponsors and developing a strong event host committee, because that’s where most of the money is.
It means that when you’re trying to raise money online, you should spend most of your time and money building an e-mail list, because that’s where most of the money is.
All of the other things are nice. All of the other things can add incremental value. But if you’re not focused on doing the things that really matter – and doing them really, really well – then you won’t be raising the money you could be… and you’re guaranteed to have far more stress and hassle than you need.