Started From the Bottom, Now I’m Here: Fundraising the Smart Way
The first several months of entrepreneurship were rough for me, mainly due to my circumstances. It certainly wasn’t prime time to set up shop. I was broke, subsisting on unemployment, and I didn’t have a partner’s second income to rely on. In many ways, I was starting from scratch, trying to claw my way out of the hole I’d fallen into.
Can you relate?
Whether you’re founding a business or a nonprofit organization, the natural inclination is to hustle as much as humanly possible in pursuit of your goals. But this misplaced ambition rarely reaps the benefits desired, because it’s not the investment of energy that’s the problem—it’s where that energy is being invested.
For a young nonprofit, “hard hustling” could mean a succession of events, each one flashier than its predecessor or, depending on the financial situation, each one losing steam until the chain peters out. Hot dog golf dinner, anyone? Casino night? Not to mention jumping through hoops to secure that $5,000 grant.
For the entrepreneur, hard hustling usually means taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, from free consulting calls, to free speaking engagements, to hitting every networking event in town.
Guess what? I didn’t have that luxury.
From the very beginning, my ongoing health issues made it impossible to put in more than a few hours of work each day. And there were days when even that was pushing it. But through it all, I never forgot what Albert Einstein said: “In the middle of the difficulty lies opportunity.“
Everything is hackable. Everything. And it’s all about figuring out how—through experience and countless rounds of trial and error. What works for you?
If anything, working from the underground up taught me to concentrate on what really matters, because, frankly, I didn’t have time for the stuff that didn’t. Not with limited resources back then and not with vast resources now. I trimmed off all of the extraneous stuff so that I could maintain a laser-like focus when it came to working the key areas that eventually would grow my business to what it is today.
Tony Buon, a British workplace psychologist, noted, “Essential to time-management is a change in focus, a change from being busy to a focus on outcomes.”
What does this mean for you and your current situation? As a smart fundraiser, where should you focus? Where should you invest your time, effort and skills?
Steer clear of bright and shiny new objects. (“Pokemon Go,” anyone?) Instead, aim to perfect the proven methods that are working in the here and now, and make them work for you. These areas are worthy of your energy, so that’s where you ought to invest it. But how should you do that, exactly?
- 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 consistently through all channels, and developing your mid-level and major donors.
- Know your organization’s donor retention rate, and make sure every member of your board knows it, too. 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 donors and getting to know them one-on-one?
- Make sure your organization has the basics of online giving in place. How do you assess what’s happening here? Give 10 people $10 and ask five of them to make an online gift to your organization, and five of them to make a gift via their mobile devices. Where do you need to make improvements when it comes to your donor experience?
- How are you stewarding your donors? Remember, the first gift to your organization is often a test. If a seed is nourished and given the chance to thrive, it can flourish. A solid relationship can began with one gift, regardless of its size.
- Have you created your organization’s planned giving program? Planned giving is sometimes hazy territory, shrouded in myths and mystery. But it’s not the daunting task it often is made out to be. Start small and start today by making all of your donors aware that planned giving is not only a legitimate thing, but that it’s an option in their relationships with you.
At the heart of the matter is this: donor-centricity. It’s not a random buzzword or a piece of jargon vocabulary; it’s the truth, condensed down into two words. The full reality is a little bit more complicated, but to wrap this up, I’ll just explain it this way: Wholeheartedly dedicate yourself to providing extraordinary customer service to your donors—the kind that sets you apart.
When you love your donors, they’ll love you right back.
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.