Latest, Greatest Secret to Fundraising Success Unveiled!

Most nonprofit development professionals would love to find the Holy Grail of fundraising. Discovering a new piece of research, a proven technique, a new technology that could unleash a torrent of funds would be undeniably wonderful.

But, do we need the Holy Grail?

Some folks seem to thinks so. Perhaps that’s why, when I’m invited to speak at conferences or lead workshops, my hosts frequently want me to present the “latest, greatest” ideas for fundraising success. Perhaps that’s why so many articles, blog posts, and seminar titles include buzz words such as “secrets,” “great tips,” “powerful,” “fresh,” “innovative,” “simple,” “key tools,” etc.

I’m not immune. I’m always on a quest for new, robust ideas. In addition, I title many of my articles (see above) and seminars with the buzzwords I know will attract attention.

In one planned gift marketing seminar I did a few years ago, I shared a variety of ideas for promoting planned giving. I knew I had a diverse audience, so I provided both simple and sophisticated ideas. While my suggestions were certainly not revolutionary, they did push the envelope of current practice.

Following my talk, a fellow came up to me and said, “You didn’t say anything I didn’t already know.”

Ouch! That’s not the feedback I like, even if it was just one person’s opinion. I always want everyone to come away from my seminars with at least one terrific idea.

After receiving the stinging feedback, I said to the man, “I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get any fresh ideas. However, I’d love to hear about how you’ve used the phone to market bequests.”

He replied, “I haven’t implemented a phone program.”

“Ok, then tell me how your direct mail campaign has done,” I requested.

“I haven’t done a planned gift mailing,” he said.

“Ok, then tell me about your website and how it allows you to track and rate visitor interaction,” I requested.

“Our website isn’t that sophisticated,” he said.

The conversation continued. The point is that this fellow knew what he should or could be doing, but he was not doing it!

While finding the Holy Grail of fundraising would be spectacular, the truth is that such a singular, miraculous method or tool does not and will never exist. However, I have some good news. We do not need a Holy Grail.

Low Hanging Fruit by defndaines via FlickrMy latest, greatest idea for fundraising success is something that can benefit virtually all nonprofit organizations: Master the fundraising fundamentals and grab the low-hanging fruit.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Sheesh! There’s nothing new or great about that idea.”

Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you should be right.

Unfortunately, I see far too many examples, far too regularly that charities simply have not mastered the fundamentals, and they have left plenty of low-hanging fruit on the tree. Just like the fellow who came up to me after my seminar, many folks may know what they should be doing but they’re not doing it.

Consider this: A new study by Dunham and Company found that charities could be losing literally billions of dollars in donations because they have failed at the online basics. For example, 84 percent of nonprofits do not make their donation pages easy to read and use with mobile devices. By the way, that statistic includes some of the nation’s largest charities.

The fundamentals matter. The evidence shows they could add up to billions for the nonprofit sector.

Do you want more money for the annual fund? Then tell me, do you have a monthly donor program? Do you do second gift appeals? Do you effectively steward gifts to ensure a high donor retention rate? Do you use database analysis to help you better target asks, even in your direct mail appeals?

Do you want more planned gifts? Then tell me, do you have a sophisticated website that allows you to track individual interactions and rate prospects based on that? Do you use direct mail to generate bequest gifts and leads? Do you use the telephone to generate planned gifts and leads?

Do you want more corporate support? Then tell me, do you offer something of value to your corporate donors or do you simply expect them to “give back”? Do you only go after the usual suspects or do you also approach the profitable, rapidly growing small and mid-size businesses in your community? Do you just ask or do you cultivate and engage as well?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of fresh ideas and cutting-edge research. However:

Learning without doing accomplishes nothing.

Everyone seeking to work as a fundraising professional should learn the fundamentals so they can effectively identify prospects, educate and cultivate them, ask for gifts, and properly steward supporters.

In the LinkedIn Smart Planned Giving Marketers Discussion Group, Sharon Wangman, Bequest Manager at the Melbourne (Australia) Football Club, said:

Unfortunately people think that bequest income will just fall into our lap. There are no short cuts or magic bullets when working in bequests. It takes consistent stewardship, honest and helpful approaches, thanking and recognition.

Making the right ask, in the right way, to the right person, at the right time will get you the right result!”

Her comment applies equally well to current giving.

About a year ago, I wrote, “Want to Know the Secret to Raising More Money in 2013?” The “secret” was for folks to get out from behind their desks and go visit with prospects and donors. It’s still a good, basic idea. So is starting a monthly giving program. So is practicing strong stewardship. So is using the phone for planned gift marketing. You get the idea.

Implementing relatively simple, small changes can yield big results for your nonprofit organization. Virtually every charity has low-hanging fruit. But, you actually have to go and grab it!

Here are five simple steps you can take:

1. Look at what you want to accomplish. Do you want a higher donor retention rate? Do you want more donors? Do you want a larger average gift from your donors?

2. Consider how your fundraising program can be tweaked to allow you to achieve what you want to accomplish. Chances are you probably already know what you should be doing differently to generate better results. If you don’t, then seek the expert information you’ll need.

3. Analyze why you have not already made the necessary change. This step might help you identify some internal obstacles you might need to overcome.

4. Develop a Return On Investment (ROI) analysis. In other words, how much will the new idea or tweak cost and what is the projected return in terms of leads, donors, and dollars? This will be particularly important if you’re going to seek some special budget dollars or a permanent budget increase. If you can’t get the internal funding, you might be able to leverage your ROI analysis to attract funding from a wealthy individual or a business or foundation.

5. Implement your change. Track results. Adjust your tactics as necessary. Evaluate the outcomes. A core component of Total Quality Management is the belief in the need to always change and enhance operational performance. Look for those opportunities and make sure your changes are having the desired effect.

Mastering the fundamentals. Making simple changes. Doing what you know you should be doing but aren’t.

Little changes in your development program can yield big results. Instead of waiting for the discovery of the Holy Grail, harvest the low-hanging fruit.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

12 Comments to “Latest, Greatest Secret to Fundraising Success Unveiled!”

  1. Michael,

    Tonight, I had a meeting with a group that tries to do good work in the community, but when I asked them about basic things like websites, Facebook, and other social media, they looked at me with a blank look on their collective faces. They are just now getting around to sending out thank you certificates to groups that participated in their annual walk last year. I have some work to do with this group. They mean well, but they really don’t understand the basics of development.

    • Richard, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s nice to be needed, isn’t it? And it sounds like that charity you mentioned can really does need you. Fortunately, relatively small changes can make a huge difference. I suspect you’re about to become their hero, if they listen to you. Good luck!

  2. Great post, Michael! Sometimes it take reiterating best practices and reframing them in different ways, whether that’s using benchmark data or a story about a related organization, to help move us in the right direction. It often comes down to knowing what you should do, but finding the right path to get from point A to point B.

    • Caryn, thanks for your comment. One of the things I find sad and frustrating is when I see a development professional who knows exactly how things should be done but who is prevented from doing the right things by senior managers who do not have a clue. This means that development professionals must be skilled at fundraising AND skilled at staff management AND skilled at managing up. You’re absolutely right when you say it’s a matter of finding the right path from point A to point B.

      By the way, if one knows the correct way to do something yet receives resistance from higher-ups, it’s a good idea to remember this quote from Rear Admiral Grace Hopper:

      It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

  3. Michael, thanks for putting the real culprit in full light: lack of active donor engagement. Today’s donors don’t just want to get a letter back from their check. They want to be loved. And love takes attention and invitation.

    • Reeve, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, donors want to be loved. That means they want appreciation, they want their gifts used how they want their gifts used, they want to be assured that their gifts are having the desired impact. Through good donor engagement, organizations will be better able to retain and upgrade donors. Without sound donor engagement, we’d be beggars rather than development professionals. Thanks for underscoring the point.

      By the way, I think you’ll appreciate a future post I’m working on about the heart of the donor. Stay tuned.

  4. Michael, wanted to say thanks for providing a link to the Online Fundraising Scorecard in this post. It really was alarming to see how much work most organizations have to do around the fundamentals of fundraising. Always good to remind people that the fundamentals really do work and are the foundation of a great development program.

    • Brad, thank you for commenting. Now that it’s baseball Spring training time, we once again see that professional athletes understand the importance of mastering the fundamentals. They also realize the importance of refreshing fundamental skills. Fundraising superstars realize this principle as well.

  5. This is excellent advice. We can be so busy looking for the million dollar idea that we fail to execute the ten $100K ideas right in front of us. Thank you for pointing this out.

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