“Chance favours only the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
Though Pasteur was referring to the practice of science, the sentiment applies equally well to the field of fundraising.
As fundraisers, we can all recount the unanticipated, major windfall from a previously unknown donor. We also not so secretly hope to benefit from a one-time commitment from an offshore billionaire. However, the key to sustainably building and significantly growing year on year fundraising revenues is effective planning. It really is simple: The better the planning the better the results.
Chance may bring success on occasion, but ‘hoping’, ‘waiting’ or ‘intending’ is not a sustainable strategy. As we bring a close to last year, it is helpful to examine the following steps and questions in order to maximise your chances for good fortune in the New Year.
1. Rigorously and honestly assess progress and results in the last year.
Closing the books on last year is more than just accounting. It involves taking stock of all that occurred, all that did not occur and in a spirit of inquiry digging deeply into ‘what’s so’. Understanding what made you successful and even understanding why you did not achieve your goals will empower you to powerfully launch the new year with a clean slate.
- What goals did you achieve? What goals did you not achieve?
- What worked well and what did not?
- What are the barriers to achieving greater success?
2. Review your fundraising targets, priorities, and case for support.
All too often as fundraisers, we focus on what our organisations need – additional staff, upgraded facilities and equipment, professional development, etc. The most effective fundraising campaigns and programs are built around opportunities – to make a difference, to improve the community, to solve an important problem. Together, you and your donors create a new world of possibilities and achievements
- What are your aspirational or stretch targets for the year? For the next 3-5 years?
- Who are you, what do you want to accomplish, and what distinguishes you from the competition?
- What are the unique resources, capabilities and strategic approaches that your organisation brings to the challenges the community face?
- How can your donors work with you to make a difference in the solving of an important community-problem?
- Is your message compelling and is it reaching the right audience?
3. Consider your program mix in relation to your targets.
Looking across the charitable sector in Australia, you find a variety of types of fundraising programs including street canvassing, fundraising events direct mail, telephone appeals, major gift, and bequest programs. Each of these is optimised to achieve certain goals with a certain cost. Particularly in a time of increasing competition for fundraising dollars and greater dependence on philanthropic revenues, it is important to know why, when and how to most effectively build on your current programs and move into new opportunities
- Is your organisation investing in the most beneficial fundraising activities?
- Do you have the right mix of activities to achieve your goals?
- What do you need to add or take away to achieve greater fundraising success?
- What will it take to achieve your long-term fundraising targets?
- Is your fundraising staff involved in too many other activities that take them away from their primary jobs?
4. Know your constituency: develop and/or review your portfolio of potential donors.
Depending upon the maturity of your program, your prospect portfolio will undoubtedly include a mix of people with varying capacities, levels of engagement, and links to the organisation. It is important to remember that people give for their reasons, not ours. In a donor-centric model of fundraising, your goal is to understand the donor and identify how you can help them achieve their philanthropic goals. The biggest gifts typically come not from preparing and presenting a shopping list of fundraising priorities, but rather from working closely with a donor to understand and respond to their most deeply held concerns.
- What will you do to engage our prospects so that they understand and become increasingly committed to the mission, goals and objectives of our organisation?
- Do you have adequate numbers of prospects to achieve your goals?
- Have you developed customised strategies for individual major gift prospects?
- Are you and your staff equipped to engage in a discovery process to understand the closely held values of your donors and create pathways for fulfilling them?
- Who will you plan to ask this year, for how much and for what purpose? Are you set up to manage towards these expectations?
You may be interested in: List of Activities to Review Fundraising and The Complete Guide to Australia’s Private Ancillary Funds
5. Build a strong culture of philanthropy.
The most successful fundraising efforts are built upon and express a solid culture of philanthropy. There are many ways to characterise such a culture. It is one where giving is not merely a one-off initiative, that is siloed in the development office but rather entails a way of being and acting that is embedded throughout the organisation and in the work of everyone – the board, senior management, front line and support staff, and volunteers. It is a question of how people see themselves and their roles and requires sustained effort over time to create as a way of doing business. Everyone you come in contact with is a potential donor and should be treated as such.
- Do the board and senior leadership understand, embrace and actively engage in fundraising?
- Do senior leaders and board members play a role in formulating fundraising objectives and strategies?
- Do they serve as ambassador or leader, giving an annual contribution themselves and/or cultivating relationships on behalf of your organisation?
- Do staff members contribute to the cultivation of relationships generally by being careful to providing high-quality service and being responsive to the needs of clients/customers?
- Do you measure your fundraising results with a clear set of metrics that are understood by fundraisers, the CEO and board members?
Albert Einstein is reported to have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Whether we are fundraising professionals or organisational leaders, we typically fall into this trap – trying harder, doing more and achieving, at best, incremental improvements.
Fundamentally and objectively reviewing your approach, particularly the unstated assumptions and underlying beliefs, and devising creative, new ways of doing business is critical to transforming your fundraising program and, in the end, the capacity of your organisation to achieve its goals.
If you would like to discuss your fundraising programs and strategies and how to sustainably and powerfully grow your fundraising program this year and beyond, please feel free to contact Jim O’Brien, Senior Fundraising Consultant at AskRIGHT.
Jim is based in Sydney. To find out how Jim can help your organisation, contact j.obrien@AskRIGHT.com.
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