What Do You Know?
It’s not hard these days to explore new ideas, check out the latest statistics or see examples of what’s working in fundraising. There is a wealth of information, and fundraisers are most often very generous in sharing their knowledge. Degrees or certificates in fundraising are offered at many schools, and conferences proliferate. In fact, it sometimes seems that the only things that are in short supply are time and money for training.
This article isn’t going to tell you what you should and should not spend time on in terms of furthering your education. After all, each of us has unique strengths and weaknesses, not to mention preferred learning styles. But there are some broad areas that you should pay attention to if you’re serious about being the best fundraiser you can be. Many are low-cost or even free, so budget is not a barrier. And there’s no time like January to decide to develop a few (and good) new habits to help advance your career.
Adapting what is working for another organization is not a surefire way to make all your fundraising projects succeed. After all, missions are different, constituents are different and your organizational “tone” may be different. But these differences are no reason to ignore what is working for others.
Read articles, attend webinars and grab any opportunity you see focusing on what is succeeding at other nonprofits. Why? Your own ideas will be challenged, and you may learn a new way to raise more. You probably won’t get any idea that you can use verbatim, but you may see some adjustments you can make that will help improve your fundraising results.
What’s in the mail?
Before the day is out, choose four nonprofits and send each one a donation of $25. Choose two with missions similar to yours, one national one that is a prolific mailer and a fourth one that you’ve heard good things about.
Sit back and wait for their mail to come to you — and then open it, analyze it and critique it. See what catches your eye. What techniques are being used by multiple mailers multiple times? That’s often a clue to what’s working, but always filter it through your own common sense.
Browse a bit
Check out the websites of other nonprofits, both those similar to yours and others that are totally different. See how their navigation works, and look at where (and how often) they have “donate now” links. What about each website catches your eye or makes you confused? You may even consider making a donation to see how the process works.
Yes, you should look at for-profit websites as well, but let’s be honest — your budget is probably a lot smaller than that of Apple or Ford. Many nonprofits have the same constraints as you do, so see how they maximize their websites.
Check out the numbers
This newsletter is a great source for links to reports that tell you about the health of the fundraising industry, and you may already receive other information that directs you to some of this inexhaustible data.
To be honest, you probably don’t have time to read every report and consider how you can use that information. Instead, choose a few reports that are presented in a way that communicates best to you, and then become a faithful reader of those. Understand their methodology and the limitations of their reporting.
Some reports talk about what happened (recent giving stats) and others predict what philanthropic income will look like in the future. Both are worth paying attention to, but always pay the closest attention to your own giving trends. In the long run, that’s what you can influence.
If there is one report you have found particularly helpful, feel free to share that information in the comments below.
Fundraising has changed significantly since I started in this field. It’s a challenge to keep up and keep learning, but that’s what makes fundraising such an exciting career. Vow today to commit to developing a new habit or two in terms of learning, and your organization will benefit — and you will, as well.
Pamela consults with nonprofits, helping them develop their fundraising strategy and writing copy to achieve their goals. Additionally, she teaches fundraising at two universities, hoping to inspire the next generation of fundraisers to be passionate about the profession. Previously, Pamela led the fundraising programs for nonprofit organizations. Pamela is a member of the Advisory Panel for Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, a CFRE, a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and Dominican University, and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from California Southern University. Contact Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @pjbarden.