Advice For All You Muggle Fundraisers from Professor Albus Dumbledore

For some, this is a long-anticipated week. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the final movie in the Harry Potterseries is being released today.

For others, this is still a long-anticipated week — because the hype about the Harry Potter movies may finally come to an end.

Whether you’re a fan or ready to grab a wand, learn a spell and make the whole Harry Potter craze disappear, here is fundraising wisdom from the mouth of Prof. Albus Dumbledore, perhaps the greatest wizard who ever lived in the imaginary world of Harry Potter.

Lesson I
It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends
(“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”)
Sometimes our best donors can be our worst enemies, asking us to “do this” in exchange for their donation. Occasionally, their request will cause us to stray from our mission or do something that isn’t in the best interest of the recipients of our programming.

It’s hard to look a major donor in the eye and say, “No.” But sometimes, we have to. Try for a compromise first, and explain why what he or she is asking isn’t the best option. As a last recourse, you may have to turn down a donation. It hurts — but if you believe in the work your nonprofit is doing, you have to protect that work and not let it be dictated by a grant or donation.

Lesson II
Curiosity is not a sin. . . . but we should exercise caution with our curiosity
(“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)
A good reminder from the professor to always test. What will happen if we add a brochure to our annual membership-renewal package? Test it. Can we e-mail our deeply lapsed donors at break-even or better? Test.

There are two polar opposites in fundraising, both of which can have fatal results: making changes with nothing to go on other than curiosity, and having no curiosity so your e-mails, mailings, newsletters and events all look the same. Exercise caution by testing, and don’t stop asking “What if?”

Lesson III
Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light
(“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”)
We all have dark days in our fundraising careers. We aired a DRTV spot, and no one called to donate. The mailer messed up, and the letters went out with the wrong insert. Our year-end email campaign failed to launch on time due to a technical glitch.

The best thing to do is lick your wounds for a while (take a walk or get a latte, for example), then figure out what you are going to do to make sure it never happens again. We can’t put the genie back in the lamp, as it were, but we can make sure we’ve done everything possible to prevent his escape again.

My recipe for dealing with the darkest of times is to figure out what went wrong, make apologies (to donors, your boss, etc.), and put in place an ironclad procedure so it won’t happen again. We all make mistakes; it’s how we recover from them that shows what we’re made of.

Lesson IV
People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right
(“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”)
Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry.” Donors respect it. One nonprofit accidently double-charged my bank account for an auto-draft. The women I spoke to was so apologetic and kind that I told her to keep the extra donation. I’ve worked for and with people who believed apologizing was always the wrong thing to do — “Let’s not call more attention to it by apologizing.” I don’t advocate overreacting, but be willing to admit to mistakes and say those too-infrequently heard words, “I’m sorry.”

Lesson V
Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young
(“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”)
There is no magic day when all of today’s young adults will wake up and decide to be donors. We have to start reaching them now — while being wise investors of our donors’ money. If the bulk of your donation income comes from baby boomers and older adults, invest disproportionately there, but begin experimenting with ways to capture the attention of the younger generations.

While it’s hard to fund an entire nonprofit with electronic communications only, it’s wrong not to have meaningful content available online. Key word: meaningful. What can you say on Facebook or Twitter that makes people search out your postings amongst the drivel that surrounds it?

From time to time, we may wish for a little magic to solve all our fundraising challenges. But the reality is, fundraising is hard work, smart strategies and building solid relationships with donors. It’s also rewarding and fun, from time to time. I hope that’s true for you today.


Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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