It’s Time to Relearn Again: 3 Fundraising Fundamentals to Remember
I am once again teaching a fundraising overview class, a variation of which I have taught numerous times. I hope the students are learning what they need to make a positive contribution to the profession—and I know I am relearning a few things as I prepare the classes. This semester I’m reminded:
Planned giving needs to be intentional. According to Giving USA, 8 percent of contributions in 2014 were in the form of bequests. That means nonprofit organizations received $10.75 billion as a result of people making gifts through their estates. We love the news reports of the organization that receives millions of dollars from someone it has never before heard of. But every day, unreported by any news agency in America, are the people who set aside a portion of their estates for charities they are supporting, have supported, have some affiliation with, or have benefitted from at some time.
Planned giving can be confusing, but the reality is the donor, wanting to make a truly complex gift, is most likely consulting an attorney or tax adviser. Instead of bogging down in CRUTs and CGAs, start inviting people to leave a gift in their wills or trust to your organization. Put that on every receipt, in newsletters, in your annual report, on your website or in other informational communications throughout the year. You don’t have to beat people over their heads or be morbid; just remind them that when they leave a legacy gift to XYZ Organization, the work they have loved and supported will continue far into the future.
The purpose is to learn to talk about bequests without apology or embarrassment. You may not see immediate rewards for the small things you do to remind people of the importance of leaving a bequest, but your organization will be stronger five, 10, 20 years from now because you had the foresight to make this an intentional part of your funding strategy.
Strong boards that support fundraisers are not an accident. The role of board members in fundraising seems to garner the most examples—good and bad—in my classes. Students with effective boards become the envy of those with boards that seem to fight against fundraising at every turn.
Generally fundraisers don’t choose the board members and may actually have very little interaction with these volunteers. When your contact is limited, look for opportunities to work with others in leadership to explore ways to communicate to the board more than just the numbers that make up your fundraising programs. Is there a mechanism where you can share comments from donors who write or call in to say “thank you” for giving them the opportunity to support the cause? Are there simple tools you can give your board members to help them be better ambassadors for your fundraising effort?
Most board members will never be super-star fundraisers (consider that your job security), but give them the best chance to succeed by sharing the heart of your work, not just the pie charts.
There will always be something taking attention from fundraising, so we have to repeat ourselves. For the next 10 months, politicians are going to be vying for attention in the marketplace, and in some regions, we will be competing with political mailings ad nauseam (or it may feel that way to some of us). A reporter may decide to do an investigation into a charity that gets extrapolated to imply all nonprofits are corrupt. Weather brings tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, fires, snow, mudslides, sleet, lighting strikes and more. Sinks overflow, cars break down and kids need new shoes.
In short, our message is always competing for a tiny slice of a person’s attention, and it can get lost in the surrounding noise. The fundraiser who sends an email, mails a newsletter or posts something on Facebook and then sits back to wait is forgetting that donors are not all that focused on our cause, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that they are.
Do you have a great story to tell? Is there a tremendous opportunity to really change the world? Was there a small step made that could have a huge impact in the future? Give your donors plenty of opportunities to hear about it. If you are serious about cutting through the clutter and cacophony of life, you have to have something worth saying—and then say it more than once.
This old dog wishes you much learning and fundraising success in the coming months because, as Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.