Several times over the course of my career I have been asked to implement a particular fundraising activity because Organization X raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing it. While I, too, want to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, I do not want to do it solely based on what worked for someone else and their nonprofit. I will research the activity to see if it will work the agency I’m working with, but even if it does, I will make modifications. Simply because every nonprofit is unique and to be successful at raising the big bucks, their unique qualities must be accounted for. For example, I have worked with nonprofits who are very successful at raising money through walk-a-thons. And I have worked with nonprofits who tried to emulate that success and failed miserably, even losing money on the event. Truly, every nonprofit is different. And those differences must be factored into your fundraising activities if you plan on raising the big bucks.
Accounting for Differences in Mission
One of the differences lies in your nonprofit’s mission. Very few of the nonprofit’s who are struggling to raise funds align their fundraising activities to promote their missions. If you want to be successful at engaging people with your nonprofit, you need to promote your mission. Money follows mission.
Accounting for Differences in Community Makeup
Another difference lies in your community’s makeup. First, you need to define who your community is, that is, the people that you want to reach. And “anyone who has money to donate” is not an acceptable answer. You need to target your communications to specific groups so they will listen to you, addressing their precise needs through the exact communication channels they prefer with references to their distinctive values and beliefs. Most nonprofits just don’t have the capacity to do that for too many target groups. Be specific. Narrowly target who you want to reach. You will end up with not as many prospects, but more prospects who are ready to give.
Accounting for Different Organizational Capacities
Different organizational capacities also dictate the type of fundraising activities in which your nonprofit should invest. Every organization, even if they have the same mission, has its own unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. Board and staff expertise may differ. They may be different in size. Or they may be in different financial positions. All of these things affect organizational capacity. It’s important to account for your nonprofit’s true organizational capacity to carry out the fundraising activities you are considering and not pursue them just because some other agency found them effective or everyone likes the idea. Run the numbers, including the labor involved, to see if you really get ahead by doing them. And account for other costs, too, like the effect on volunteer and staff morale. As well as the opportunity costs of not doing something else. You’ll realize the best results by leveraging, instead of taxing, your resources.
Accounting for Differences Over the Life Cycle
Different organizations may also be in different stages of their life cycles. Your mix of fundraising activities will be different when you are just starting out than in ten years. In ten years, you will have more developed, experienced board, staff, and volunteers. Your organizational goals will be different, including your revenue goals. You will have slightly different reasons for raising money, which is a sign it is time to evaluate your current fundraising plans goals and objectives and revise them as necessary to fit into your new reality. Don’t just keep doing a fundraising activity because it has worked in the past. What worked in the past worked in the past. If you have a new reality – if your nonprofit has grown and changed over the years – you have a different present than past. Make sure to assess whether your continuing fundraising activities still fit your present situation.
Wrapping It Up
One fundraising plan does not fit all nonprofits, even nonprofits in the same community with similar missions, sizes, or budgets. Each nonprofit is different. And your agency’s uniqueness must be reflected in your fundraising plans for you to realize the most from whatever fundraising activities you choose to implement. Choose fundraising activities that promote your mission. Get people engaged in your mission and the money will follow. Intentionally target specific donor groups you want to reach and design communication and fundraising campaigns that align with their needs, values, preferences, and beliefs. Leverage your organization’s resources, financial and nonfinancial. Run the numbers to see where your highest return on investment is, including labor, soft and opportunity costs. And base present plans on present conditions, not past ones. Take the time to regularly evaluate your plans to see if they are still the best option given your present circumstances. Do what your nonprofit, not someone else’s, needs to do to raise the most money you can.