Look Who Just Moved Into the Neighborhood: How Not to Approach Fundraising
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Early on in my consulting career, I met with a senior-citizen organization. As we began our meeting and as I was just beginning to form my first impression, I asked the executive director, Adele Wilkins, a delightful sexagenarian, how much money she was looking to raise.
Fair question, wouldn’t you say?
She was vague: “Enough to continue the programming already in place and grow new programs,” she told me.
I noticed during our tour of the facilities that the computer center was unused. Adele explained to me that while they’d gotten a grant to create the program several years earlier, currently, they lacked the funding to maintain the technology or the classes.
The programs they did have in place were funded by insignificant earned income, bake sales, spaghetti dinners and small grants from a handful of local business sponsors and foundation funders. I had a feeling things had been this way for quite some time.
But what they really were excited about (and what they hoped to bring me on board to plan), according to Adele, was an idea one of their board members had shared for creating a signature event—a local “Antiques Roadshow” that would become an annual occurrence.
“What a charming idea!” I responded. I’m a longtime fan of the show myself. “How did you come up with that?”
“One of the regular appraisers from the PBS ‘Antiques Roadshow’ series recently moved into the area!” Adele excitedly responded.
“Do you know him personally?” I asked.
“No,” she admitted.
“Well then, one of your board members must know him?”
“Well, no ... ” Adele replied, her voice trailing off. Despite this, she seemed to be sure that this gentleman—a public figure, really—would be utterly delighted to use his position and share his years of hard-earned expertise at no charge in order to raise money for their organization.
Yes, it’s great to be optimistic, but only when you’ve latched on to a reasonable kind of optimism—the kind that is the result of using your noggin to carefully create a realistic plan that you stick to, tweaking along the way as needed. Just because famous people live within a five-mile radius of your organization (or heck, even just down the block), don’t get excited over the prospect of “a perfect match.” Trust me, it’s not going to be that easy. In fact, it’s going to take some serious thought and some serious work.
Ask yourself this: Do you have a specific plan for how much money you’ll be raising this year? Have you established a reasonable dollar goal for individual giving, for online giving, for grants, for corporate support, for any earned income?
Or, are you operating like the senior center and just treading water? Be honest. Do any of these bright ideas sound anything like yours?
- Your board member’s cousin knows someone who is best friends with the brother of Bill Gate’s wife. So how about dropping everything you’re doing and spending the rest of the week writing a grant proposal for the Gates Foundation? You’ve got a connection, after all.
- You just found out about the Amazon Smile program. Once you sign up, every time someone shops on Amazon, your organization makes money. Quick and easy, eh? Well, if it sounds too good to be true ...
- Someone famous just moved into the neighborhood, and it’s a known fact that they give to charities. So why wouldn’t they want to give to yours? Why wouldn’t they want to help children/senior citizens/libraries/kittens?
When you begin to break away from nickel-and-dime activities and focus on a carefully considered plan tailored to building genuine relationships (yes, cliché, yes, trite, but that is what sound fundraising is all about) in a strategic, consistent way, you’ll find your fundraising becomes easier. Steadier. More reliable.
And only then. So take a deep breath, start planning and understand that it’s all about the moves you make. You can’t expect to get from point A to point Z in one move when there are 24 destinations in between. Great results won’t happen overnight because fundraising success and sustainability never do.
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.