Fundraising: Avoiding the Quagmire
Just about every seasoned fundraiser has a story or two about an activity that basically sucked the life out of him or her. A recent article in this publication focused on events and their tendency to overconsume a fundraiser's time and under-produce net income. But the reality is any fundraising activity can end in disaster: a mailing that is delivered late (or not at all). A website redesign that goes way over budget and still lacks an easy-to-use donation page. An event that is poorly attended. Even wasting hours in meetings to decide on the new copy machine or corporate logo.
While even the best-laid plans can still fail from time to time, when you are evaluating any fundraising option — or something else that will consume time that could be spent building relationships with donors — there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk that the project ends up being a case history for fundraising disaster.
Always have a clear goal. What does this activity need to accomplish? It may be a monetary goal, better recognition in the community, access to endorsements, appreciation for volunteers or any number of things. Being clear on the goal can help you decide how much time to invest and whether or not that activity is a good choice. A goal that is so out of touch with reality sets your nonprofit up for failure and has the potential to drive staff away. The time to adjust the goal or cancel the activity is before you've invested so much time in it that you feel you have to go on and try everything possible to make it work.
Let your "raw materials" drive some of your strategy. If you have a strong group of loyal donors with as-yet-untapped potential and an engaged board willing to approach contacts, you can possibly forgo some mass marketing efforts. But if you are just starting out and have little or nothing to work with, an activity that reaches a large number of potential supporters may give you the foundation you need to move toward a true major donor program. Be sure you have realistic expectations and a solid follow-up plan; for example, many participants in an "a-thon" are only participating because it sounds fun or they "owe" a favor to a friend. Expect that, but also identify those who have potential to continue giving (because of a genuine interest in your cause), and focus on cultivating them.