Still Looking for that Magic Bullet?

IMG_4707“What guarantees can you give us,” the board chair asked, “that our fundraising will increase if we hire you?”

None.  I’m a consultant.  My job is to advise, coach, help you to plan.  No matter how good I may be, if the people at the organization don’t act on the plan we create, the advice I give, the steps I outline, nothing at all will change.  Hiring me should only be a starting step.

Of all the things I’ve learned in my life, here are the two big take-aways:

  1. Life is not fair
  2. Fundraising takes consistency and time

In other words, there is no magic bullet.

To increase your fundraising, start with a long hard look at what you are doing.  In the privacy of your office, consider how much you NET (that is, the difference between the revenue you bring in and the cost of doing whatever you are doing.  And yes, that must include salaries of those involved.  If you earn $80,000 a year, and you spend 35% of your time on your golf tournament, add $28,000 to your golf expenses.  And don’t forget about your benefits!) for each fundraising effort.

Before you decide “I’m not doing that anymore,” think about ways you could improve that bottom line.  This is a great discussion to have at your next development committee meeting.  In some cases, it may mean that doing less will net you more; in others, adding elements will make the difference.

For example, when I had events as part of my portfolio, I made the catering departments at the venues I chose really work for their money.  I told them what my budget was, what I expected for that budget, negotiated when necessary, and then left them to do what they do.  The time I spent on the event didn’t lessen, but the time I spent getting more sponsorships increased.  The more sponsorships increased our bottom line and the cost to raise a dollar went down significantly.

Likewise with direct mail appeals.  Consider those as campaigns instead.  A fundraising campaign is a time-limited effort to raise money using a variety of techniques with a unified message.  By adding platforms like postcards, e-solicitations, careful use of social media, old-fashioned phoning, small gatherings, and face to face meetings, I was able to increase revenue without significantly increasing expenses.

What else can you do with the ways you are already raising funds?

Now consider if there are things you are doing you should stop doing.  Maybe you still have that gala, but instead of sit-down dinner you have heavy finger foods, and instead of the fancy venue you do something inexpensive and unique.  And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean you lower ticket costs.  Or maybe you do, but increase the number of sponsors and bulk up that tribute book.

Or perhaps you decide that the fish fry really isn’t worth the effort.

Ok,  you’ve bulked up and slimmed down, but you are not done yet.  Consider what else you might be doing to raise money.

In my consulting, where most of my clients have operating budgets of under $2 million and development offices, if they exist at all are very small, I’ve noticed that most fund raising is arm’s length.  The event, the mailing, the contest, the grant.  Most money, however, comes from relationships.

How often are you meeting with your donors?  Heck, how often do you meet with your board members to talk specifically about how you can team up to raise money?  I don’t care what you’ve heard, boards don’t fundraise—unless staff seriously supports their efforts.  Not with words, but with actions.

If board member A has a relationship with major donor prospect B, don’t tell your board member to go forth and raise money.  Not going to happen.  Do sit with A and find out all you can about B.  And then together—remember, you are a team—create a plan of action.

In all the years I worked with boards, I can count on two fingers the number of times those board members actually connected with their contacts to set up meetings.  Instead, using my board member’s name, I made that phone call, I set that date—and guess what?  Together we raised the money!

Does this sound like a lot of work?  It is.  But unlike hoping for that magic bullet, this work pays off.  Do the work and your fundraising will increase.  Substantially.


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