Are You a Fundraising Maverick or Working to a Plan?
You’ve seen him on TV — the maverick cop. He doesn’t play by the rules. He relies on his instincts and his contacts on the street, and his innate ability to track down perpetrators on a hunch — just in time for the late news. But he gets RESULTS. Why don’t we get TV shows featuring cops who follow procedures and fill out their expense claims on time?
Fundraisers might be similarly categorized — the mavericks are those who have the right contacts, make inspired judgment calls, and play fast and loose with data-entry standards, but somehow the funds come in. Meanwhile, the rest of us rely on more prosaic techniques, or at least a blend of inspiration and perspiration, to win the support of our donors.
Whereas the lifeblood of the detective is a combination of clues and putting in the hard yards, we have to base our fundraising strategies on a combination of gut instinct and information. Information about what works and what doesn’t work based on prior experience and research. Our database systems may be great at producing flashy charts, dashboards and the like, but do they really tell us what we need to know?
The trick — and this is where many nonprofits experience a gap — is to get the information that tells you how you’re doing against the objectives. In order to do that, you need to define your objectives in the first place. And those objectives flow out of your vision (or strategic plan) for the next few years. Sounds simple, but it’s alarming how common it is to find that lack of connection between the vision and what fundraisers do day to day. They may still manage to raise money, but there’s little direction.
So in my experience, that’s the biggest challenge charities face in this area. Not the ability of the technology to produce reports — they have been able to do that for many years now — it is the ability of the charity to connect the dots between its vision and the objectives so the right information can be produced and enable you to effectively monitor the objectives. Or to put it another way, you are not able to get a database report to show how close you are to achieving your vision because the vision itself is not measurable (although you should be able to tell when you’ve achieved it). But you are able to get reports that track your progress against objectives that relate to the vision. And to coin a cliché, those objectives must be SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related — otherwise, how can you measure your progress to meeting them?