Bucket Lists and @$*

My friend and consultant extraordinaire, Kikanza J. Nuri Robbins  told me about her friend, of woman of our certain age who says she has a Bucket List and a second list that sounds like bucket but starts with an F.

That second bucket, according to Kikanza, is very full.

I get it.  As I age, I find there are more and more things that just aren’t worth worrying about.  My husband decides that a great holiday present for me would be plane tickets to visit HIS family.  Really?  Oh well…  I forgot to buy milk for my morning latte (I do have a stressful life), and now I’ll have to just have an Americano. Dang, but oh well….   I don’t get a consulting job I really wanted, sigh, but oh well.

There are things, of course, that will never end up in the bucket with an f list.  I can’t just shrug my shoulders and ignore the fact that homelessness is growing rather than shirking, health care is becoming more and more out of reach, that my youngest kid may never be able to buy a home.  And I can’t just ignore the awful antics of our government.

The other thing I’m finding harder to shrug off is the fact that so many organizations in our sector don’t do a very good job of engaging their communities.

And they do a worse job when it comes to creating relationships that could bring in significant support.

Too many nonprofits are focused on deficit fundraising.  That is, bring in whatever you can as fast as possible because if you don’t we will have to cut our programs, slash our staff, close our doors.

Today I was meeting with a development director whose executive director informed her that she needed to raise 1/3 more than originally budgeted—already a stretch goal—or things would be dire, indeed.  Doing that via direct mail and other arm’s length fundraising techniques—the ways they regularly raise their funds—are not going to bring in what they require.  That is a job for a serious major gifts program.

But major gifts take time.  They take cultivation.  And they require that the prospects, most of whom will come from the ranks of annual givers, have been well stewarded.  In a country where fully 60% of all first-time donors never make a second gift, this becomes hard indeed.  And for small organizations who seem to be on a treadmill, losing almost as many donors and dollars each year as they bring in, the task seems to be impossible.

Still, you cannot just throw up your hands and say “Buck-it.”  So what can you do?

  • Ask every single donor to increase his or her gift just a little bit. That may give you some breathing room
  • Identify those who could increase their giving by a lot, and begin the long process to a major gift, meanwhile helping to move up the fundraising ladder. This means getting up close and personal, so you can learn what matters to them.
  • Focus on stewardship. Show your donors, in very specific ways, how their support matters and what their generosity has changed.
  • Ask your donors for advice as to what they want from you in order to continue and increase their support. Do send out (SHORT) surveys; call and ask; have focus groups and town halls.
  • Stop simply chasing the dollars and remember why you exist. And then make sure that everyone knows that and understands why it matters.
  • And then thank all your supporters. And thank them again.  And tell them why they are important.


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