5 (Mostly) Low-Cost Ways to Be a Better Fundraiser in 2017
We’re all well aware that the year 2016 is rocketing to a close. Maybe you are already busily using up your hoarded vacation days, or you may be going to work every day to make sure you leave nothing to chance when it comes to year-end giving. But no matter where you fall on that continuum, one thing won’t change—in just over two weeks, it’s a new year. New opportunities. For some, a new job. And yes, new frustrations.
Right now, when 2017 is nothing but a dream filled with possibilities and great expectations, is the time to think about what you want to do in the new year that will leave you a better fundraiser one year from now. I’m not talking resolutions—those are too often forgotten before January comes to an end. Rather, jot down some things that you want to make a priority—or at least do once—in the next 12 months as part of your professional growth.
Here are a few ideas to help you begin your list.
1. Start simply describing your work. If you’ve ever read a box of Cheerios, you may have noticed this statement: "We serve the world by Making Food People Love." Now, that is pretty simple. Forget the one- or two-minute elevator speech—in four words, I know what the passion is for the company making my breakfast cereal of choice. How do you quickly tell a prospective or a current donor what it is that your organization does? Is it so simple, so brief, that they will understand it and feel more connected to your work as a result?
2. Commit to regularly reading one person or publication. These days, there is an abundance of material—much of it free—to help us all be better fundraisers. The problem we all face is time to read it. Rather than building a massive reading file that never gets touched, choose to always take time to read what one person (or a few, if you are ambitious) puts out. Hopefully you will eventually get to all the other things in your reading file, but at least you will get regular nourishment from one source to help you grow as a fundraiser.
3. Question a "given." What is something you have always done and have never even stopped to ask why? Has the rationale become outdated? Should you at least test it? For example, many organizations have banned words and phrases—not because they are offensive, but because someone in authority who is no longer around didn’t like them. Another is dollar handles in fundraising. Have you tested raising the low end, even by $5?
4. Become a financial donor yourself. This is the one thing on this list that will cost you money, but you will gain far more in continuing education than you’ll spend. Choose an organization you admire—not just for its mission but also for its fundraising prowess. Then, look at everything you receive—receipt, email, postal mail, etc. What makes you feel valued as a donor? What’s missing that leaves you feeling unappreciated and unlikely to give again? Apply your experience to your own fundraising program to build a better donor experience.
5. Prepare a will. Even if all you own is a cat and an iPhone, planned giving is such a key part of fundraising that all of us should at least stick our toe into the pool. Writing a will is easy to do online, and there are free templates you can use. (Just do an online search.) Why am I suggesting this? Because when you’re talking about something, you’re going to be far more convincing if you have had experience yourself—and there’s nothing like writing a will to get you thinking about what and who matters to you, and how uncomfortable it can be to think about being gone. It will give you a deeper empathy with donors who are making plans for their estate, and people sense and often respond to genuine understanding.
You may not agree with this old dog’s five points, but hopefully you are thinking about a few of your own. Because when 2017 is over, 381 days from now, there are few things more enjoyable than celebrating personal accomplishments and professional growth. So here’s my early 2017 wish for my fellow fundraisers, a quote attributed to Mark Twain but likely written by someone else who has been forgotten over time (kind of like the experience of a fundraising copywriter): “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.