Why Fundraising and Fundraisers Fail
As with any new year, I am examining a lot these days. I remember several occasions when, as a consultant, I was asked to save fundraising campaigns from failure. Why couldn’t I have been asked to come in before the campaign was launched? It is extremely hard to clean an organizational mess. In fact, two campaigns come to mind that were DOA (dead on arrival) in my mind. A national organization was working on a significant capital campaign and lucky for them, they were still in the silent phase.
The board supported the effort, but beyond these individuals, no real plan or broad prospect base was in place. In addition, the top five gifts given were far less than projected. On another occasion, I was asked to rescue a dying organization. Because of mismanagement, poor planning and execution, a dying board, etc., I could not save this organization from dying. I tried very hard, but too many negative factors were at play when I arrived. It was sad because its cause was sound and community services were badly needed.
This Impact Institute article about why most fundraising initiatives fail pointed out that fundraising is difficult and frustrating work. The path to success is littered with pitfalls and landmines. According to the article, there are seven primary reasons why a nonprofit’s fundraising efforts fail. These reasons include the following:
- No Case. The case for support needs to be crafted to emotionally connect your organization with your prospects and existing donors. Many organizations fail to do this.
- No conviction. If you are not 110% committed to the case statement, your fundraising initiative will fail miserably.
- No communication. Fundraising initiatives fail because they are grossly under-communicated. Provide the funding support to make those aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it.
- No connection. Nonprofit executives and fundraising professionals must create indestructible connections with their most important people, donors and prospects.
- No confidence. Those involved never really bought into the goals that were developed from the outset. Having confidence in reaching fundraising goals is a huge part of the success equation.
- No closure. Huge percentages of nonprofit organizations do not adequately make their requests known. Surveys say up to one-third of fundraising professionals fail to ask for a contribution.
- No credible framework. Most fundraising efforts in the U.S. are largely activity-centered, rather than results-oriented because of a lack of a credible framework, which is the major reason most fundraising initiatives fail.
Besides organizational failures, there are professional fundraiser failures. These are the individuals given the heavy ongoing task of generating funds for the organizations they serve. In a Fundraiser Help guest article by multimillionaire nonprofit benefactor Paul J. Meyer, he describes the qualities possessed by successful fundraisers. The results were based upon his survey of over 30 high-caliber major donors. From this survey, Paul provided attributes from a donor’s perspective of why fundraising professionals succeed while others fail.
Here are a few qualities successful fundraisers possess, according to the survey:
- Sincere relationship between fundraisers and donors.
- Personal integrity that shows fundraisers are genuine and upfront.
- Knowledge of their charity by keeping donors well informed.
- Clearly defined goals that help the donors accomplish the mission.
The secret to securing donations for your nonprofit is give donors what they want. Donors want to know how their contributions are helping others. Relationship-building over time is very important. Strive to continuously improve your performance and understand your weaknesses. At times, it is also not about you, but it is about chemistry between people. I have purposely given prospects to fellow colleagues when I felt their chemistry would be a better fit leading to greater results. You should believe in team success, not just individual success.
Try to understand why fundraisers and fundraising fail. There are key elements to each attribute, and you must understand these attributes and how they interface. This is both a theory and practice exchange. It takes time to perfect the art of the ask and how to identify, cultivate, solicit and steward your prospect/donor portfolio. If you truly believe in your organization, cause and yourself, you are on your way to long-term success in this profession.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.