Best Practices to Avoid ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Fundraising
Too often, we see campaign strategy and development plans that are cookie-cutter. There are proven best practices in fundraising, as well as new and innovative strategies in communication and technology.
We have formats for various plans with many variables and update these continually after every client engagement and through concentrated work groups comprised of our team members on a regular basis.
A key component of any valid plan is research: reviewing giving data, reviewing communications and plans, listening to staff and board leadership, getting the insight of the development team and, especially, listening to donors. With this as a foundation, your plans will have originality and distinction and be crafted to the unique circumstance that your organization faces at this point in your history.
Recently, we were talking with a client. We had just completed a campaign planning study. In this instance, it was a church, and the pastor had, in his mind, a calendar for the campaign. However, it was based on what he had always done in his past two campaigns with counsel from a large national firm specializing in churches. It was cookie cutter—not at all appropriate to the circumstances we found and that he concurred with at his current church. That approach was comfortable to him, but would not have maximized his success and effectiveness.
In the past, for example, he had always preached a series of sermons on stewardship leading up to a commitment Sunday. We recommended sharing a briefer message on stewardship months earlier and then building up to commitment Sunday, sharing more about the exciting outcomes that donors could help create.
He also pushed backed on individual asks for gifts. Our research and the church’s giving history showed a lack of major donors and increased the importance of individual, confidential and appropriate conversations, inviting members to make major commitments. You can’t have this conversation when you seek gifts through a call on a Sunday service or through direct mail. In some churches, the data would support this type of appeal, and it would be in sync with their culture. Not in this situation. When we asked the pastor about the void of major gifts identified (or potential donors in that range that the church could identify), he agreed that individual visits would be most effective.
We never go into a fundraising planning effort with a preconceived notion of what to recommend. We let the research drive how we apply proven best practices and take advantage of emerging trends to maximize the client’s success. Be sure that all of your plans are undergirded by research and sound discernment.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.