Boo! Don’t Scare Away Your Donors
Since Halloween is approaching as I write this (and probably just passed as you read it) — and since I can't get the "Little Shop of Horrors" song out of my head — I thought I'd share some of the scariest mistakes I've seen from small nonprofits. My hope is that you take heed and learn from these so you can avoid them.
Lack of planning and strategy
If you don't know where you want to go, then any road gets you there. Without a plan, you spend every day reacting to the crisis du jour and never really move your fundraising efforts forward. Having a plan is critical to the success of your organization. It doesn't have to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning document, but it does need to provide goals and direction for your organization. Remember, people don't plan to fail. They fail to plan.
How to avoid this creepy mistake: Make a plan today! Start putting ideas on paper, even if they are more of an outline. Then fill that outline in a little at a time. It won't seem so overwhelming that way.
Lack of support and participation from your organization leaders
Your executive director must be involved in fundraising. When it comes time to ask a donor for money or thank a donor for a gift, your top staff person must be involved. Likewise, your board of directors must pull its weight. It's one of the board's basic responsibilities. Board members should make monetary gifts themselves, and they should support fundraising efforts by attending or hosting events, opening doors to people they know, and thanking donors.
How to avoid this ghoulish mistake: Be clear about what you expect organizational leaders to do and how you want them to participate. Don't say to them, "You need to help with fundraising." They don't know what that means. Be specific. Ask them to do something particular, and explain how it helps you raise money.
Putting all your eggs in one basket
Way too many nonprofit organizations get most of their funding from one grant or one source (usually government reimbursement), and they are strangely comfortable with that. If for some crazy reason that one grant or source goes away, they're going to be dead in the water. It makes the future of the organization terribly unstable and unpredictable.
How to avoid this scary mistake: Don't rely too heavily on one grant or one contributor. Diversify your revenue streams. Use lots of different resources and techniques for raising money so you can stabilize your cash flow.
Never actually asking for money
You know what a great organization you have. Your donors might have an inkling, but your nonprofit is probably not their most pressing priority and even though they want to see you be successful, they might forget to send gifts. You need to provide them with multiple opportunities throughout the year to give.
How to avoid this chilling mistake: You must actually ask your donors for money from time to time, whether through a direct-mail piece, an e-mail, an event or a personal ask. Make the ask as tangible as possible. For example, "Your gift of $25 will provide 100 meals," or "With your gift of $100 or more you will receive a one-year membership …" Use holidays or seasons as a time to make an ask like, "Make your year-end gift now," or "Help us by making a back-to-school gift of $25."
Not thanking donors adequately
Even worse, not thanking donors at all. You'd be amazed how many nonprofit organizations don't send thank-you letters. I've tested this myself, and I was stunned. Not thanking donors in a timely manner or not thanking them at all can send the message that you are disorganized, don't appreciate the gift or don't care about the donor.
How to avoid this deadly mistake: Your best bet is to send a thank-you letter within 48 hours if at all possible, up to a week at the latest. The thank-you letter lets the donor know that you got her gift and have set it to work. It builds trust with the donor. And it sets up the next gift. Your thank-you letter can support or destroy the donor's image of you. A sloppy "fill-in-the-blank" receipt can send the message that you don't have time or don't care enough to properly thank her. FS