Fundraising


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...

Building a Small-Gifts Campaign Landing Page

Website pages are an important part of any fundraising campaign. When the fundraising effort is made online only, the online campaign landing page (OCLP) can be the difference maker. It can speed or impede the giving process. As things stand now all online fundraising campaigns should be small-gift campaigns. The amount of money asked for should be scaled to the size of a common everyday purchase such as lunch in a restaurant. A gift of that size, requires no consideration by donors of its impact on their budget. It will be an impulse gift. The trick is not to get in the way of that impulse. People are infinitely more likely to walk away from making a $10 gift because of a slow cumbersome process than because of the impact the gift will have on their personal finances. The OCLP is called a landing page because that’s what happens. People land there after coming from somewhere else. Think of it like an airport. Everybody who has ever gotten off a plane at some large airport for the first time does so with a look of bewilderment. Where do I go? Left, right, straight? After leaving the secured area, comes the line of people holding name cards. Even if you’re one of the names, you still have to search for it among the 10 to 20 others. Then there’s baggage claim. Which one of 78 near identical black suitcases is yours? Let’s not even think about what happens when your bag doesn’t show up. How much better would it be if your private plane were landing at an airport where everything was set up for you to...

Single Women Fundraising Sweet Spot

Nonprofits should reach out and develop a base of support among single women, and a social-media strategy should be an important part of that effort. The evidence for both the importance of unmarried women as donors and social media as a key way to interact with them lies in a mashup of data from three sources: US Census Bureau Lilly School of Family Philanthropy 2010 Women Give study Website Magazine report on social media use by men and women In its broadest sense, a mashup is the combining of content from different sources to reach a new or deeper understanding about a subject touched on in part by each of the original sources. The three sources used in this mashup provided the most recent data and conclusions readily available. And while some of the data may be six or more years old, I have no reason to doubt its continuing validity. Taken together, the three sources support the conclusions that: Single men and women are a major segment of US population. Single women are more inclined to give than single men. Single women who give will generally give more than single men who give. Significantly more women than men use social media, use it more often, and engage with it more deeply. The underlying data that support those conclusions make an unassailable argument for developing and nurturing an identified donor base of single women and for using social media to do it. Single Women Are an Important Group and There are More of Them than Single Men According to the US Census Bureau 44.1% (103 million) of the adult...

How Long Should Donors Have to Fulfill Fundraising Pledges?

In my hands is a slick, well done brochure for a capital campaign. The nonprofit organization that has produced it wants to build a new $6.5 million facility. Dates are given for ground breaking, commencement of construction, building completion, and dedication of the new facility. It tells of several encouraging, pacesetting donations that have already been received. An impressive campaign leadership group is identified. Attractive naming opportunities are listed. Everything in the brochure speaks to a well thought out project. It’s a great brochure touting a well planned project and campaign. All looks good, except for one thing—one sentence: “Pledged donations may be paid over three years.” Eight words, such a small thing, but those eight words are the seeds for potential disappointment, even failure. Let’s suppose I’m a prospective donor, a supporter able and quite likely willing to make a gift of $100,000. But, for a variety of reasons I will want to pay my pledge over five years not three. I’ve got taxes, personal obligations, and commitments to other worthwhile organizations to think about and plan around. Think about how being put on notice that I cannot make my gift according to my timetable is likely to impact my receptivity to solicitation by the organization.  But the Money Is Needed Now Organizations raise money because they need it to meet expenses. Annual-fund campaigns designed to cover operational shortfalls are the best example of the need for explicit payment schedules. The money they raise is needed to cover anticipated expenses in the coming year. In many ways the same holds true for capital campaigns such as the building...

Should an Organization Have a
Formal Gift-Acceptance Policy?

I am often asked—and it is a recurring topic in fund-raising forums—about whether non-profits should have a formal gift-acceptance policy. My questioners aren’t just concerned about the rare donation that may come with a tinge of doubt about the donor or a level of concern that acceptance of a specific gift may shine a less than favorable light on the organization. Some seem to have a desire to delineate in writing what an organization will and will not accept as a donation. On one hand, it sounds like a good idea for an organization to know what type of gift, from what sources, with what strings attached it is not willing to accept. On the other, a rigid policy can get in the way of working with an unusual donor or gift, and nothing makes a policy more rigid its existence in the form of a formalized written statement. A gift-acceptance policy that is less than well thought out can be a strong negative communication to prospective donors, particularly if that policy is public—published on an organization’s website or included in an annual report or other printed documentation. No matter how you look at it, a gift-acceptance policy is a judgment by the organization of the worthiness of gift and giver. If prospective donors are aware of the content of the policy, they are likely to feel categorized and prejudged. They may feel that the things that make their situation or gift special and therefore an exception to the hard and fast rules will be ignored. They may very well turn away from the organization in order to avoid...

Supporting Organizations May Be the
Fundraising Answer If and Only If…

There are members of the boards of trustees of nonprofit organizations who would like to lessen, even eliminate, the fundraising responsibility that comes with their position. Doing so is not wise, but that has not stopped some boards from establishing other bodies that are then charged with all or some of the fundraising responsibilities that would normally fall to them. In general, this is bad practice, bad policy, and a failure of responsibility. However, there are exceptions. The responsibility for fundraising for a nonprofit organization lies primarily, if not wholly, with its board of trustees. The smaller the organization, the more the board needs to be actively involved with all aspects of fundraising, and large size alone doesn’t let a board off the hook when it comes to its fundraising responsibilities. Even if an organization has a substantial and highly professional development staff, the board at a minimum has to accept and carry out fundraising responsibilities in five areas: Oversee all fundraising policies, practices, and activities to assure that they meet legal requirements and follow accepted accounting principles. Oversee all fundraising policies, practices, and activities to assure that they are in alignment with the organization’s vision, values, and mission. Make gifts in keeping with their ability to give. Request gifts from peer-group prospective donors. Recruit additional volunteer leadership for fundraising campaigns. Not all members of a board are equally capable of delivering in an impactful way in all those areas, and no one realistically expects that to be the case. A board made up solely of rich and eager givers may seem like a dream come true to many...

What To Do When Foundations Have Walled Themselves Off from Your Organization

Reaching out to foundations that have predetermined your organization is outside their area of interest can be challenging, and doing it wrongly can close doors forever. Private foundations are mandated by law to give away a certain percentage of their assets each year, but they can give their money how, when, and where they choose. That’s why some foundations can have a “give only to preselected charities” policy. It’s their money. As fund-raisers we need to honor the wishes of these “walled-off” foundations. Yet, for the good of our organizations, we find ourselves searching for ways to form relationships with these “potential” donors in hopes of becoming one of their accepted few. As we attempt to span the gap between their giving policy and our need, we have to do so with integrity and delicacy. After all, we’re trying to build a bridge not burn one. A major complaint I have heard from foundation officials over the years is that grant seekers are often either oblivious to a foundation’s established grant eligibility requirements or they ignore those guidelines. Those are both big mistakes. So, what can you do when face to face with a wall built by a foundation to keep organizations like yours out? Is there a way you can make justified and meaningful contact with these grant makers and not violate their rules? The answer is yes. It has been done. How do you do this? Use Direct Leverage of Key Stakeholder Associations While some grant makers deal only with their favored, preselected charities, even refusing to accept proposals from others, you can be pretty safe in...

Metrics Can Be a Grant Writer’s Nightmare

Let’s pretend you’re the person in a nonprofit organization charged with seeking grants and that your boss is going to hold you accountable to one or more of the following standards. You must get _____ proposals “out the door” every_____. You must get ___­_% of the grants for which you submit proposals approved. You must raise a minimum of $_____ as a result of your grant proposals. I don’t think there could be three more dismaying demands. Using any of these too common absolutist metrics to evaluate a grant seeker’s performance is more than formidable. Depending on how the fill-in-the-blank numbers are determined, it can be flat out damning. Such demands, more often than not, lack a footing in reality. They are unlikely to show even a rudimentary understanding of which grant-making organizations are awarding grants to what initiatives, projects, and organizations. Demands such as these are unlikely to be based on any true market research looking at the way in which grant-making organizations value the purpose to which the requested grant will be put. And this is research that has to be done for each grant-making organization taking into account the operating context of the nonprofit seeking the grant. That is not research which can be done in a half hour on the Internet. It takes time and effort—a lot of time and effort! Too often such demands come out of the poorly informed view that: Success or failure can be measured simply by looking at the “numbers.” Those numbers need to be tough. Grant-proposal writers need to be pushed to “stretch” their goals and increase their effort....