Fundraising Basics

Yes, science, technology and skill sets are necessary to be successful as a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations. However, there are also several very basic axioms which, if followed, will greatly increase your success.

You don’t get – if you don’t ask

Being good at providing services and programs does not automatically bring in contributions. It’s relatively easy to identify prospects who care about your mission, have great capacity and are knowledgeable about your organization. However, they are not going to become donors until they are asked. Asking can be in many forms. For major gifts, a personal “face to face” request to a prospect, to consider a suggested gift amount, provides the best return on investment. However, grants, group meetings with a general request for donations, events and direct mail, can also be utilized as a method to make an ask.

Connect to hearts and minds before you connect to wallets

People are not going to make significant contributions to an organization that is of no interest and about which they have no personal connection or feelings. The ability to secure a gift and the size of the gift will be enhanced if the donor is educated about the organization, “feels” the importance of what is being accomplished and has a relationship (directly or indirectly) with the organization, solicitor, project or program. Cultivation of those relationships provides added value to the donor and organization.

Fundraising is both art and science. Success requires both.

There are definite processes, sequential steps, ethics, legal guidelines, tax laws, accounting and other requirements that need to be followed to be successful within a nonprofit engaged in fundraising. This is the science of fundraising. Just, if not more important, is the art of fundraising which focuses on relationships, personality, leadership, engagement and follow through.

The 80/20 rule is now 90/10 and applies to fundraising.

80% to 90% of funds raised typically comes from 10%-20% of donors. Most nonprofits obtain the largest share of their philanthropic income from major gift donors. Time spent on major gift solicitation provides the greatest return on investment of nonprofit resources both human and financial.

The quality of a gift is directly related to the quality of the relationship between the solicitor and prospect

Major prospects deserve personal attention. People give to people. Your relationship to the prospect has a direct impact on their gift. The more they know and trust the solicitor, the more comfortable they will be making a major gift. They need to know that they are getting accurate, current and reliable information about the organization and the impact of their giving. They also will be more comfortable knowing that the solicitor, with whom they have a relationship, is likely to be more familiar with their background, interests and abilities than would a stranger.

Avoid the ready, fire, aim temptation

Too often the desire – need to raise funds creates a sense of urgency which translates into volunteers and staff wanting to get started and solicit as many people as they can, as broadly and quickly as possible. Fundraising without a plan, organization, and discipline is an invitation to failure. There needs to be proper organization, leadership, communications, marketing, budgeting, back office systems and a well defined case for support. A campaign fundraising plan is critical and should be integrated within the overall business plan of the nonprofit. Fundraising should be conducted sequentially (top down and inside out). Initially the campaign should focus on the largest potential gifts and existing leadership of the organization. Events, group meetings and mass appeals should not be utilized until major gift solicitations have been addressed.

Leadership sets the example.

Before making their commitments, many major donors, corporations and foundations want to know that the leadership of the organization has demonstrated its fiduciary responsibilities, not only through stewardship of funds and budgets but also as donors. Early in any fundraising effort, Boards and leadership within the organization should be asked to participate as donors, to the best of their abilities. Full participation is as important, if not more so, than the total dollars raised from leadership.

You can never thank a donor, volunteer or staff member too often. They are your keys to success.

Whether it be stewardship, public recognition, ongoing communication, personal thank yous, gifts, member benefits, etc………the more you are in touch with donors, volunteers and staff in a way that demonstrates your appreciation, the more likely they will be there for you when you need them in the future.

Donors expect and deserve a good return on their charitable gifts/investments

Treat your donors as if they were major stockholders. They deserve to know how their investments in your organization are working and if the funds they have donated have accomplished the purposes for which they were given. The more you can demonstrate a good return on their investment, the more likely they will contribute in the future, and be a positive advocate for your organization in the community you serve.

Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of the newspaper.

Nonprofits must conduct themselves ethically and appropriately if they are to maintain the trust and confidence of their supporters and those they serve. When faced with difficult decisions, nonprofits should take the moral high ground and work diligently to ensure that a culture is established that promotes ethical behavior at every level within the organization. Challenges will occur. Whether related to gift acceptance issues, donor requests for special treatment, financial management, reporting, disclosures, personality conflicts or other issues, every nonprofit will have to confront delicate and potentially controversial problems. How problems and challenges are addressed is a true test an organization’s strength and effectiveness.

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About Gary Coiro

Nonprofit & Church Leader Nonprofit Leader and Consultant since 2004, following 15 years as a pastor. Competencies include board development, fundraising, staff development and management, strategic planning, church work, Bible teaching, and capital campaigns. Currently consulting and serving on the Church Ministries Management Team for a large multi-cultural evangelical church.
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