What’s the Real Cost of a Fundraising Opportunity?

Every fundraising opportunity has three categories of costs. One is obvious, the second is obscured by the opportunity itself, and the third is investment inherent in the structure of an organization. The first is always considered when deciding whether to pursue an opportunity. It is a direct cost. The other two are indirect. One of the indirect costs forms an either-or question and is often neither seen nor considered. The other is a question of capability. The three categories of opportunity costs are: Resources required to pursue an opportunity. Benefit that could have been derived if those resources had been applied to a different opportunity. Ability to pursue an opportunity. We plot the first cost on spreadsheets, then create budgets, and even institute measurement tools before we begin our pursuit of an opportunity. The second cost, the cost of opportunity lost, too often receives only a cursory examination early in the decision-making process. Sometimes it’s ignored completely. The third we can do little about at the moment of opportunity, but failure to recognize and understand it can turn an opportunity lethal. In fundraising we are used to making decisions based on return on investment (ROI). We decide to invest in a fundraising initiative because we believe it will generate income substantially greater than the cost of implementation. In fact we look for opportunities that strongly leverage that expense. We want an outcome, an ROI, that delivers a high multiple of what we have invested. But what about what will be lost because some other course of action is denied those resources? The answer to that question isn’t easily plotted...

Holiday Giving: Make It Bigger and Better Next Year

As we enter the final days of the Holiday giving season, a question occurs to me. It’s one all nonprofit development officers who expected this season to yield increased giving over last should ask themselves: Was I prepared? Come January it’s tempting to sit back and rest after a hectic three months. Maybe even pat yourself on the back a bit. That’s especially true if year-over-year you did better. But making dollar amount raised, number of gifts, and average size of a gift the only measures of success or failure is a mistake. Doing your job well in the final quarter can boost donations and cover up what you failed to do in the first three. When I ask were your prepared, I’m not asking about your readiness to receive an influx of donations. Nor whether you created and executed well-crafted appeals. I’m asking what you did during the first ten months of the year to enlarge your base of potential donors. How did the number of qualified prospects with which you began the final two months of this year compare with last year? Was the number substantially stronger? Was it ten, twenty, thirty percent…higher? I suggest you look at those numbers. Don’t kid yourself. Be ruthless in your analysis of what constitutes qualified. Then deconstruct everything you did to make this year’s number substantially larger than last year’s. I bet you’re going to be disappointed in your efforts. January is a great time to develop plans for making your organization better prepared to optimize the next holiday giving season. Then February through October carryout those plans. Make it...

Make Your Mission Statement a Fundraising Tool

A nonprofit organization’s mission statement should be its principal case for support—the main reason why anybody should ever consider donating to the organization. Every other statement a nonprofit makes about its good works past, present, or future should derive from the content of a well crafted mission statement. A mission statement should be clear, concise, and active. It should literally trip off the tongue. The gist of it should be easily remembered. Think of it as your elevator pitch—what you want someone to know about your organization when you have 20 seconds or less to tell them (the time it takes for an elevator ride). That elevator ride may be the only chance you ever get to pitch your organization to a prospective donor. Make it count. A prospect who hears an organization’s mission statement should walk away with an absolute understanding of the primary purpose of that organization—the part of its identity it will never give up. There are those who will argue that fundraisers don’t need to worry about the mission statement. They’ll suggest that the fundraising story can be told successfully irrespective of the mission statement.  Don’t believe it. A mission statement is rooted in an organization’s founding and permeates its existence. It should be the first and best argument for support. Clear, Concise, and Active The absence of a clear, concise, active statement of mission hampers fundraising efforts. An organization cannot have clarity in fundraising if its statement of mission is murky or fails the test of user friendliness. A clear mission statement is easily understood. It is written in common, everyday language. It doesn’t...

Donor Surveys

What Do You Know About Your Donors and What Do They Know About Your Organization? If we’re going to ask people for money, it sure helps if they think highly of both our organization and its mission. Do they see our mission as vital and valid? Are we perceived as being successful at carrying out that mission? Has our organization earned and maintained trust and respect? Have we been efficient stewards of donations and resources? Has any controversy been associated with us? Have questions about any of our leaders arisen? Do people believe we are the right organization to address what we declare in our Mission Statement? Do they know enough about us to have formed any deeply held opinions? Learn About Your Donors Methods to learn the opinions and impressions donors have of your organization can be implemented in a number of ways, including mail, e-mail, telephone, focus discussions, and face-to-face meetings. Whether comprehensive one-on-one interviews, or a mix of any of the other options, surveys do not need to be complicated research instruments. A simple questionnaire (or format, for personal meetings) can be tallied either by hand or, if you structure the questions right, on a simple computer spreadsheet. When conducting a donor satisfaction and donor interest evaluation, I think a few suggestions on how to collect data are in order: Questionnaires are a good way to collect a lot of information quickly. Unsigned questionnaires guarantee anonymity. They are easy to manage, and multiple-choice responses can be easy to quantify. But you have to be careful not to write questions that bias responses. Questionnaires lack a personal...

Greetings from America: How U.S.-Style Fund-Raising Can Work in Your Country

Introduction I have presented fund-raising workshops in many countries outside North America during a professional career of more than 35 years. I have also presented fund-raising workshops to numerous foreign visitors in the United States who were representing charities in their respective countries. In every case, the people who attended my workshops came from nations in which there was neither a tradition nor an established process of individual or corporate philanthropy toward charitable and cultural agencies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Yet despite such challenges, people from around the world sought advice and guidance regarding the U.S. philanthropic-style of fund-raising. They did so because they recognized that government support of charities, cultural bodies and NGOs in their countries was rapidly eroding and in danger of disappearing altogether. As a result, they were both willing and eager to learn how to fund-raise in the American style. “Just show us how to do it,” they told me. “We will find a way to make the process work for us.” Many of them succeeded in dramatic fashion. And this article is intended to convey the message that you can make it work, too. A Heritage of Giving The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom share a long-standing tradition of philanthropy. Fund-raising for charitable organizations that promote human welfare—as well as for such cultural entities as art museums and orchestras, and for NGOs that do good works—is, therefore, both accepted and encouraged in our societies. While the U.S. and some other countries enjoy a long heritage of private support for charitable organizations, individuals in other countries are just as caring and supportive as...

Develop Your Fund-Raising Plan
with Consensus

Introduction Are you working on a fund-raising plan—or planning to? When seeking to construct a plan for a fund-raising campaign, the persons charged by their non-profit organizations with that responsibility often ask for a plan “boilerplate,” or a “template,” thinking that such models could be directly and wholly adapted to their situation. However, it is not that simple. Since each campaign plan should be determined by the objectives, costs, resources, priorities, responsibilities and timelines emanating from the long-range, strategic plan, it is obvious that a “one-size-fits-all” fund-raising campaign plan document can only be used in a broad and general way. Refinement, flexibility, and consensus, are but a few of the components which each plan must accommodate and they are unique from one organization to another. This article can help you to adapt the guides and outlines provided so that you can develop your own general development plan and specific fund-raising campaign plans. Planning Is Everything A fund-raising campaign must be: A plan, Within a plan, Within a plan. Each campaign plan works within the general development plan, which in turn must fit into the organization’s strategic plan—with the Mission Statement being the “center of it all.” Deviate from this hierarchy of plans and you invite chaos. A campaign plan that is not in accord with the general development plan may make its goal, but it may also “poison the well” for other fund-raising efforts. A general development plan that has not been created within the context of an organization’s strategic plan may outline a valid theory for acquiring contributed income, but it will probably lack the content necessary for...