The Best Advice From Nonprofit Leaders
As part of a group project for a master's class in fundraising that I teach, students in small groups interviewed fundraising directors at area nonprofits of their choice. One of the questions they were required to ask was, "What advice would you give to someone starting a career in fundraising or launching a nonprofit?
The five student groups interviewed nonprofits ranging from a century-old university to a local human services organization and a nationally recognized nonprofit. There were trends in the advice, regardless of the size of the nonprofit. Here's a sampling of the wisdom these leaders shared.
Keep coming up with new ideas
Successful fundraisers today aren't relying only on the old methods, but they also aren't abandoning tried-and-true fundraising programs for the shiny, new ones. Rather, they are using a mix of old and new and constantly thinking of ways to make something that works work even better.
One nonprofit had a successful golf tournament, so its fundraisers decided to hold three on the same day. That built greater momentum and allowed for more "bang" for the promotional dollar. I'm sure it also wore staff out, but at the end of the day, the results made it worthwhile.
Developing and maintaining people-to-people relationships is the most important thing you can do
"Ask often but not always" was a theme of the advice. They also cautioned the students to listen to what interests the donors; remember, it's not what you're selling, it's what they want to buy. Also, ask the donor for a specific amount; then be quiet and wait for him or her to respond. ("Listen more, talk less" — always good advice!)
One development director said he welcomes when, during a personal visit, a donor asks for information he doesn't have. Instead of bluffing his way through, he sees it as a great reason to come back to the donor. The donor has, in effect, left the door open for your next visit.
Pamela consults with nonprofits, helping them develop their fundraising strategy and writing copy to achieve their goals. Additionally, she teaches fundraising at two universities, hoping to inspire the next generation of fundraisers to be passionate about the profession. Previously, Pamela led the fundraising programs for nonprofit organizations. Pamela is a member of the Advisory Panel for Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, a CFRE, a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and Dominican University, and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from California Southern University. Contact Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @pjbarden.