Eyes Wide Shut: Is Fundraising Nirvana Even Possible?
It happened in an instant, in the middle of a lackluster workshop that I’ve long forgotten. The truth is, I can’t recall a single takeaway from the day’s training, but something still was illuminated for me. About three-quarters of the way into the day, we gathered in groups to share our challenges. That’s when my eyes were opened, and I’ll never forget it.
Two participants revealed that they were program staff—no, not fundraising staff or marketing staff—at a local women’s shelter. Their eyes were shining as they enthusiastically relayed how excited the day's training made them. Before it had gotten off of the ground, they’d been dreading the workshop and wondering what in the world fundraising training had to do with their jobs.
Now, they couldn’t wait to get back to the office to share their clients’ stories with development and marketing.
It was a light bulb moment for me, you see, because I witness this kind of disconnect every day.
I’ve noticed it happening within smaller organizations, where I’ve been hired as the fifth development director—in two years.
You know the drill: You’re expected to write that $1 million grant that is going to save everyone’s hide or miraculously acquire a major gift from a donor who has been ignored for five years straight. The expectations are high, and so is the general feeling that fundraising is somehow dirty—and the rest of the organization is glad that you’re on board so they can wash their hands of it. History is doomed to repeat itself.
I’ve found it occurring in midsize and larger organizations, where there’s a huge disconnect between fundraising and marketing. The dreaded silos.
Frankly, I see it in every organization where fundraising isn’t viewed as an integral part of the organization’s mission. This disconnect prevents your organization from truly excelling in fundraising.
What is the remedy?
- Wholeheartedly embrace donor-centricity. The term may sound like a buzzword, but I can assure you that it isn’t. It’s essential. It’s a mindset, a philosophy, an organizational culture, and it’s necessary in order for any nonprofit to function brilliantly. The element of donor-centricity should be interwoven with your organization’s identity—because you continue to exist and do great work because of your supporters.
- Understand the fact that everyone in your organization plays a crucial role in fundraising success. “But I’m not a fundraiser!” is a cop-out. When sustainable, long-term fundraising results are the goal, you’ll need every member of your team on board. That collective passion, enthusiasm and drive is essential to your fundraising success. When each of the machine’s parts is running at optimal capacity, the machine runs smoothly. It knows how to handle the bumps in the road.
- Employ the power of persistence. Turned down after “doing everything right” to secure that major gift? Disappointed that your capital campaign isn’t faring as well as you’d planned? Wondering why a long-time donor suddenly has decided to stop giving? These are not failures—they’re bumps in the road. So own them as part of your journey, and trek onward and upward. Communicate in an effective way with the foundation and donors who’ve turned you down, and find out why. They’ll be impressed that you reached out to them. Don’t close the window on the relationship, or the potential for one.
But how does this work in real life?
Mandy Fischer, development director for Intervale Center in Burlington, Vt., said that her organization has experienced a sea change since working with the Simple Development Systems model. She wrote:
It is amazing what you can accomplish with an attitude adjustment. In addition to including a “culture of philanthropy” one-pager with board and staff expectations in every new staff and board orientation packet, we do a COP training for board and staff each year, and we constantly stress that development is a mission-aligned program of the organization.
As a result, everyone at the Intervale Center is a great ambassador who can articulate a case for giving.
We love our donors, and they love us.
Our [executive director] is a committed and wonderful fundraiser. We are achieving incredible success; with a very busy two weeks left, we expect to exceed our community fundraising targets by at least 10 [percent] again this year (Note: Intervale [Center] exceeded [its] goals by 20 [percent]).
Our success means more local, organic food to hungry people, more native trees planted in our watersheds, more farmers receiving business planning and marketing support, and more fun for everybody in our community. We love our jobs! It’s incredible to get to be the bridge between our donors’ greatest passions and the world’s greatest needs.
My goal—and yours—shouldn’t be about creating your organization’s next ice bucket challenge. Gimmicks are fleeting, and quick fixes won’t guarantee long-term success. The purpose of my work—and yours—should be to grow a healthy, sustainable nonprofit.
How are you thinking big and growing your fundraising?
The fact is, there aren’t any shortcuts or magic bullets, and there never will be. You have to do the work and put in the blood, sweat and tears. But here’s the truth: When your focus is in the right places, when it’s on celebrating your donors and what their work makes possible, and when everyone on your team recognizes the role they play, yes, your fundraising will reach a state of nirvana. I guarantee it.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.