Growing up, my sister and I used to talk about the people who just seemed to always be in the know. They effortlessly, so we believed, knew what to do whether in their personal or business lives. And when they did something, I was convinced that they always had success. Overnight and assured success.
I, on the other hand, had very different experiences. I felt that I was never in the know and everything took an amazing amount of effort. In my secret heart, I wanted to be a novelist, and a stage actress. But I didn’t know how to go about any of that, and it never seemed to dawn on until I was much, much older, everything involves a process that includes educating and then putting yourself out there. Regularly and consistently.
I also didn’t understand that overnight successes are generally the result of years and years and years of practice and trying; failing and getting back up and trying it all over again.
It doesn’t take much of a jump to see what this has to do with fundraising.
Successful fundraising doesn’t just happen. It takes time and it takes effort. A lot of effort.
Like everything else, it starts with education: yours and your potential donors.
On your end, you need to learn about the ways you could raise funds. What are the techniques and what does it take for those to be successful.
Sure, the best and most effective fundraising is sitting face to face with affluent, philanthropic people whose philanthropic interests intersect perfectly with what your organization does. But who are those people? And how do you get in front of them? Magical thinking is not a strategy. Just because you have a great mission (don’t we all?), it doesn’t follow that all you have to do is get the word out and the dollars will come pouring in. Trust me, it won’t.
The best fundraising strategy, therefore, is being realistic about who you are, what your resources are, what the culture of your organization is, and of course, your goals. It won’t do to have as a goal raising $1,000,000 if you have a donor pool of 250 people and the largest gift you’ve ever received is $100.
Once you have painted that realistic picture, figure out your highest needs:
- Building a donor pool—new prospects
- Keeping existing donors
- Upgrading them
- Getting lapsed donors back into the fold
Probably, you need to do all the above (though again, if you’ve never fundraised before, that first bullet will be most important for the foreseeable future). Now, pick some ways that you use to accomplish those things.
If your donor pool is tiny, what are ways you could start enticing new prospects to learn about you? If you keep losing donors, what do you need to hold them tight?
And then set to work systematically using those techniques. And using them again and then again. It will take years to build a strong fundraising base if you are starting from scratch.
And, if you are consistent and do the things—even, no especially the ones you don’t want to do—you need to, you will wake up one day to a fundraising program that is an overnight success.