Fundraising Readiness

Before a nonprofit organization embarks on planning a fundraising campaign it needs to assess its readiness to seek support. Does it have the resources, opportunity, and self understanding to successfully fundraise? What is the value proposition it will take to potential donors? Is it visible enough within its community to even get a hearing? How strong, concise, and clear is its statement of mission?

Those are just a few of the questions that must be answered before a nonprofit embarks on a fundraising campaign. An organization ready to fundraise needs to have an involved and committed board willing to lead the way. It needs to have identified and validated a base of supporters.

Before a nonprofit even starts to plan a campaign, it needs to have an overall fundraising plan.

Articles about Fundraising Readiness

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

In the Beginning

All fund-raising campaigns must begin with a realization that the organization needs money, usually voiced to the person charged with fund-raising as, “We need to raise $________.” The amount varies, but once accepted it becomes the Goal. Whether the effort is to be the regular clockwork of an annual campaign or a one-shot designed to raise money for a specific, non-recurring purpose, it begins and ends with the goal. Success or failure is measured incrementally by how far above or below goal the campaign finishes. The first step in setting the goal is to look at the resources you plan to tap and see if they can meet the stated need. Even organizations with modest contributed income needs will find the following example of this principle instructive. Once at a board meeting of The Cleveland Orchestra, an influential and highly respected trustee got up and said, “What we need is more endowment. We ought to have a $20 million endowment campaign.” Sitting there, hearing that declaration made with no justification, and no warning, I was in no position, as Director of Development, to show any reaction, however subtle—that we should and could raise that significant amount, or that such a goal was not possible. My inside emotions were another thing, as I said to myself, “Oh no!” But it was to be yes! The suggestion was made, after all, by a trustee of great influence and affluence, and all heads nodded in agreement with him as expected. Not the Best Way to Set a Goal In the end, the goal we decided on was $12 million, not $20 million.... read more

Nonprofit Fund-Raising Demystified

When it comes to fund-raising, there are truths and myths. The truths illuminate the path to success. The myths speak with the dark voice of “conventional wisdom” of what can’t be done and won’t work. Throughout my career I have had to overcome three myths of fund-raising that would have me give up before I start. My tools have been The Nine Basic Truths of Fund-Raising. Myth 1: Face it, fund-raising is impossible and the process is a mystery. Anyone who has failed at it or has managed to avoid being held accountable for that failure knows this. Myth 2: Everybody knows you need a proven track record if you are to raise money. If you doubt it, just look at all the help-wanted ads for development officers that list as a qualification “successful history of managing a major annual campaign or soliciting large donations.” Myth 3: It’s common knowledge that corporations and foundations give most of the money. Just ask those who have never done any fund-raising or who would find a contribution of $50 a strain on their budget. Those three “beliefs” have helped doom many a fund-raising campaign. On the other hand, there are some insights about fund-raising that successful fund-raisers have gained. These insights often fly in the face of the myths of conventional wisdom. They offer no shortcuts. They promise no instant results. However, they are not hard to understand, and nearly anyone can profit from them. They are The Nine Basic Truths Of Fund-Raising. The Truths, The Whole Truths, And Nothing But The Truths Sometimes in this world that showers us with new... read more

Don’t Make Your Organization’s Statement
of Purpose A”Mission Impossible”

We read in all of the right publications and we are told by the experts that a non-profit organization’s mission statement should be contained on the back of a business card, declared in as few words as possible on the organization’s letterhead, etc.—and even, as a national authority states, fit on a T-shirt. Because such brevity suggests simplicity we could be led to conclude that the process required to create or to rewrite a mission statement is likewise a brief exercise. That is far from the truth. But take heart, while deliberate and comprehensive it must be, the mission statement development process is not incomprehensible. All you need in order to do the best job possible is to have a board of Trustees leading the way and working effectively together, as they take into account the core values and the outlook for their organization—which is subsequently distilled as the mission statement. Your Nonprofit Organization’s Mission Statement The ‘Center’ Of It All The Mission Statement declares ‘why’ an organization exists, and is the only foundation upon which a long-range strategic plan (the blueprint for carrying out the organization’s ‘business’) can be developed. The long-range strategic plan, with its clearly stated and defensible programmatic initiatives and their respective costs, allows for the creation of the fund-raising plan from which specific fund-raising campaigns are organized and launched to secure annual, capital, endowment, sponsorship,and underwriting funds. An organization’s mission statement IS the center of it all. Your Mission Is Not What You Do But The Difference You Make Because of its fundamental importance in the life of nonprofit organizations, volumes have been written on mission... read more

Know Your Organization

You start the process of becoming a fund-raiser for an organization when you first become involved with the organization. That’s when you begin to acquire knowledge about an organization, and acquisition of knowledge is the first step in preparing to raise money. To sell any product, it is important to know just what the product is and what it does. It makes no difference whether you are a waitress explaining the intricacies of the specials of the day, a computer salesperson pitching the new improved model, or a solicitor in a fund-raising campaign. If you are the person running a campaign, you must make sure your solicitors have access to information about what the organization is, what it does, and why money is needed in the furtherance of what goals. If you are the person asking for the money, think about how you would go about making your request without that information. Yes, you will on occasion find people who will give because you ask rather than give to the cause, but that is the exception and –this can’t be said often enough—you cannot rely on the exception to support your organization. New board members should be invited to attend a formal orientation session exposing them to what the organization does, how it is important to the community, why its services are necessary, and what their role will be. Volunteer solicitors in a campaign should be given the same information. Professional development officers need to steep themselves in the workings of the organization from their first day on the job. Your Mission — It Is Not What You Do,... read more

Check Out Your Organization’s
Fund-Raising Readiness and Learn
the Secret Of Fund-Raising Success

For many people, fund-raising is the stuff of myth and magic—a series of tasks rivaling the labors of Hercules and demanding the powers of a Merlin. Myth and magic, because they offer the balm of simple acceptance in place of the pain of comprehension, can be very comforting, and in no instance is this more true, than when the myth of fund-raising magic is used to excuse fund-raising failure. “If,” goes the justification, “running a successful fund-raising campaign is an endeavor comparable to dredging the river Styx, and soliciting large gifts equivalent to pulling Excalibur from the stone, what mere mortal can be expected to succeed?” Given that attitude, let me add a corollary: “Why bother to develop a goal or start a campaign?” The answer to those questions is, because we have to, and because the myth of fund-raising doom can’t measure up to the basic truth that fund-raising success is simply hard work on the part of people who are thoroughly prepared. A successful fund-raising campaign is not magic. It is a straightforward, concise process of executing well-defined components arranged in a step-by-step progression. I know this to be so because I have seen it done over and over again–starting at A and working through to Z, successfully carrying out campaign after campaign and achieving goal after goal. I’ve never found a well planned fund-raising campaign to be a Herculean task. Looking at the nuts and bolts of a fund-raising campaign is the best way I know to make its success probable and its process understandable. Breaking down a campaign step-by-step, point-by-point, lets you present it to... read more

Nine basic truths of fund-raising

The nine basic truths of fund-raising listed below are taken from the introduction to my book It’s a Great Day to Fund-Raise, and they are the foundation of my successful career as a development officer for and consultant to nonprofit organizations. Organizations are not entitled to support; they must earn it. Successful fund-raising is not magic; it is simply hard work on the part of people who are thoroughly prepared. Fund-raising is not raising money; it is raising friends. You do not raise money by begging for it; you raise it by selling people on your organization. People do not just reach for their checkbooks and give money to an organization; they have to be asked to give. You do not wait for the “right” moment to ask; you ask now. Successful fund-raising officers do not ask for money; they get others to ask for it. You don’t decide today to raise money and then ask for it tomorrow; it takes time, patience, and planning to raise money. Prospects and donors are not cash crops waiting to be harvested; treat them as you would customers in a... read more