How to Turn Your Fundraising Around – Action Steps

Is your non-profit struggling with fundraising? Are you worried that you won’t be able to keep the doors open next year, next month, or (yikes!) next week? Then this article is for you. It’s time to turn your non-profit’s fundraising around.

As fundraisers, when our organization is having trouble bringing in revenue, it can unnerve us, and make us panic. At that point, we don’t need to talk fundraising theory, or discuss the finer points of effective direct mail. What we need are action steps that we can implement fast to right the sinking ship.

Today, we present the action steps you need to take to turn your non-profit’s fundraising around. Before we get started though, remember to stay calm. Just like most businesses, many non-profits that are not raising enough money can be turned around and become thriving enterprises. It’s up to you and your team to make it happen. Here’s what you need to do… now… to keep your organization moving forward:

Step #1: Figure Out How Much You Need, and Why

The first step in turning around your fundraising is to figure out how much you need to raise, and what you need it for. If you are in crisis, you may have two distinct fundraising numbers: what it will take to keep the lights on for the next couple of months, and what it will take to keep providing services at your current level for the next couple of months.

The time range here should be 6-12 months: what will it take to cover operating expenses for the next 6-12 months, and what will our programs cost over that same period.

You’ll also need to put a message behind your fundraising, to explain to your donors why you need the money right now. It’s very difficult to make an appeal based on “we can’t keep the lights on.” Instead, your appeal should be mission focused: we need money, today, because we need to provide (insert the services or programs you offer) today!

Step #2: Put Together and Motivate a Fundraising Team

The next step in raising the money you need to stay active over the next 6-12 months is to put together a group of people to help you raise money from their own contact list… basically, you need to build a fundraising network. This is important because, unless you are a college or major metropolitan hospital, it is unlikely that your development staff is going to have the time and resources to raise all of the money that you need in the time you have allotted. Get others to help.

Start with you board. Every member of your board should commit to helping you raise money by reaching out to their own contacts, holding hosted events, hopping on the phone and making asks.

Next, look through your donor, volunteer, and other supporter lists to see who might be willing to reach out to their own rolodex to raise money on your behalf. That nice senior citizen who is independently wealthy but volunteers faithfully once per week is a great target, as is the businessman who donates $1,000 per year and always invites his friends to your annual event.

Who might be willing to help? Make a list and go visit each and every one of them as soon as possible to ask them to help.

Remember (this is important!) you need to offer training, materials and support to the folks who are helping you fundraise. Talk to your board, and to the other people you are approaching for help, and let them know why you need the money, what your message is, what your deadlines are, and give them all of the fundraising and marketing materials they need to succeed at their task. Keep them motivated by checking in with them on a regular basis.

Step #3: Contact Current Donors

Next, pull out your donor list and work through your current donors. Visit the highest dollar donors, call the midlevel donors, and call or send mail to the low level donors. Ask them to give now to support the work that you are doing now. The people most likely to give to your non-profit today are the donors who gave yesterday (or last week, or last year).

Step #4: Contact Your Vendors

The next step is to call through all of the vendors that do business with your non-profit. Basically, this means anyone you write a check to for overhead / office / fundraising expenses. This means your printing company, your landlord, all of the event venues you rent out… Ask each of them to become a corporate donor to your organization.

Step #5: Contact Past Donors

Another great source of potential revenue is your lapsed donor file. Who used to give to you, but no longer does? Now is a great time to get back in touch with them. They believed enough in you to give before, you may be able to convince them to do so again. Go visit them, call them, send them letters (the higher level the donor was, the more likely it is that you should go see them in person), tell them what has been going on at the non-profit, and ask them to get back involved.

Step #6: Contact Cultivation Pipeline

Now, it’s time to make asks of the folks who are in your cultivation pipeline. Who have you been building relationships with over the past year? What prospects have started to get involved with your non-profit, but have not yet been asked to commit financially? Now is the time to ask.

Don’t ruin your relationship with folks if they are not ready to be asked, but be very liberal in determining just who is ready to make a gift to your organization. For example, while that new prospect who came to her first event last night might not be ready to make a five figure gift, that attorney you have been talking with for four months may be ready to give, even if you would normally have waited another couple of months to ask her for a sizeable donation.

If your non-profit is in (or close to) crisis mode, you’ll need to move up some of the asks and speed up your cultivation funnel.

Step #7: Seek Sponsors

One final way to bring cash in the door today is to seek out corporate sponsors for your non-profit. If you had the time, you might be able to spend a year trying to get major companies to make million dollar gifts in return for naming rights on your facility… but in crisis mode, you don’t have that luxury.

Instead, see if you can form partnerships with larger local businesses that would be willing to make sponsorship gifts to your organization. Offer to hold a press conference, put up a sign, or provide other recognition to businesses that are willing to serve as sponsors for your work.

Step #8: Figure Out Your Mid-Range Plan

Once you’ve got your feet under you again (meaning you’ve raised enough to cover your expenses for the next 6-12 months), it’s time to put a mid-range fundraising plan in place. This means figuring out a strategy for growing your fundraising and moving into an even more stable place over the next 1-3 years… not long enough to plan, pre-sell and launch a big capital campaign, but far enough into the future that you can plan some major initiatives.

Your mid-range fundraising plan should focus on building increased fundraising support networks, including strengthening your board, growing your individual and corporate giving programs, seeking grants to fund your work, and possible launching (or expanding) a major annual fundraising event.


Photo Credit: NASA Marshall Space Center