Is Your Organization Caught Up in ‘Busyness Syndrome?’
If you’ve been in fundraising for any length of time, you’ve no doubt come across what I call “Busyness Syndrome.”
I first encountered this disorder during my second nonprofit development job. I’d been hired as a grant writer for an agency serving disadvantaged women and children. They were an organization I admired and was familiar with from my days working for a large grant-making foundation that funded them often. But what I found inside the organization was disheartening.
Staff turnover, particularly in development, had been high for years. The records available to me were incomplete. The organization didn’t seem to have a clear fundraising plan and engaged in events unrelated to its mission. A local country club had donated its golf course, so, naturally, we had a golf event every year (despite the fact none of our board members played golf). After all was said and done, the event didn’t break even. I'd been hired to write grant proposals, yet I was constantly pulled off task for insignificant jobs like tying goodie bags or picking up donated auction items. After six short months, I left.
This preoccupation with being busy, rather than following a straightforward plan, affects small, mid-sized and large organizations alike, although it is particularly noticeable in smaller nonprofits.
Does your organization have Busyness Syndrome? Here are a few key indicators:
- Your fundraising is always in crisis mode.
- Your development team pays for its own training and books.
- The responsibility for fundraising is assumed by one or a few people (most often development personnel or your executive director).
- You rely on activities, such as special events or direct mail campaigns, rather than focusing on a comprehensive strategy.
- When major gifts occur, they are usually unsolicited: No-one is charged with making the ask and few face-to-face meetings occur for the purpose of cultivation.
- You’ve never surveyed your donors.
- You know that when your founder leaves next month, she’s taking half of the donors with her.
Tony Buon, a British workplace psychologist, notes that, “Essential to time-management is a change in focus, a change from being ‘busy’ to a focus on outcomes.”
GivingUSA, The Annual Report on Philanthropy, shows us, year after year, where the “big money” in nonprofit fundraising really is. In 2015, the report revealed that a full 80 percent of charitable dollars (factoring in 8 percent in bequest gifts) came from individuals. And as for corporations? U.S. businesses gave a mere 5 percent of overall charitable dollars.
What does this mean for you?
Where should you focus, as a smart fundraiser? Steer clear of bright and shiny new objects. Instead, aim to perfect the proven methods that are working here and now.
Zero in on your individual donors with a laser-like intensity. That means having a plan in place for stewarding new and loyal donors, creating a monthly giving program (and working it), communicating well consistently through all channels, and developing your mid and major donors.
Know your organization’s donor retention rate, and what you will do to improve it. Nonprofit donor retention is the best, and ironically the cheapest, way to fundraise. How are you welcoming new donors? Are you making daily donor thank-you calls a priority? How often are you out of the office visiting with donors?
Online giving continues to see strong growth. Make sure your organization has the basics in place. Give 10 people $10 and ask them to each make an online gift to your organization and report back on the experience. How are you stewarding those donors? Remember, the first gift to your organization is often a test. Have you created your organization’s planned giving program?
In short, dedicate yourself to providing extraordinary customer service to your donors. Great things happen when charities are devoted to their donors.
Mandy Fischer is development manager at Intervale Center, a nonprofit organization in Vermont working to strengthen community food systems. After joining Simple Development Systems, and introducing a new donor focus, she told me that the organization had begun including a “culture of philanthropy” one-pager and training as part of the orientation for new staff and board members.
As a result, “Everyone at the Intervale Center is a great ambassador who can articulate a case for giving,” she explained. In 2014, “We exceeded our targets by an incredible 20 percent! Preliminary analysis says it’s the large donors and the love we have showered them in that is paying off. We also exceeded our grants and capital goals for the year, and we have set an ambitious agenda for 2015.”
Remember, your goal shouldn’t be your organization’s Ice Bucket Challenge, to go “viral” or crush it on Instagram, because quick fixes won’t guarantee long-term success.
Instead, aim to create a healthy, sustainable nonprofit organization focused on long-term success, understanding that when the donor comes first, everyone wins. To really kickstart your fundraising, you need to understand that it’s not all about the money.
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.