Does Your Fundraising Program Need a Personal Trainer?

When outside counsel can help

Sometimes a personal trainer is what you need to get a weight loss or fitness program on track.

“Get results today and tomorrow” and “get motivated” are two reasons my health club promotes hiring a personal trainer. “Stop thinking you can’t do it” is my own internal marketing mantra. So now I get pushed, prodded and stretched by Cal, and I’m finding out I can do a lot more than I ever thought possible.

It’s the same with our fundraising programs. Sometimes we need someone from outside to help us get out of our comfort zone and push our fundraising efforts further than we have before. If you’re finding the following descriptions fit your situation, it may be time to hire a personal trainer for your fundraising program.

Mentally, you’ve set limits

  • “There’s no way we can do that; we don’t have the resources.”
  • “We tried that several years ago, and it didn’t work.”
  • “Our donors (or board) will never go for that.”

Are these sentiments being raised in your fundraising strategy sessions? Even worse, have you stopped having strategy sessions because you’ve given up on doing anything new? Have you and your colleagues set limits to what you can do, preferring to stay in the safety zone of what you know works and isn’t too controversial?

A fundraising consultant can help you get past arbitrary limits and move — carefully and controlled — into new areas of fundraising. Just as you wouldn’t want to return to the gym after 10 years and start out by trying to lift 200 pounds, you may not want to take on a $10 million capital campaign as your first challenge with your fundraising personal trainer.

But maybe you could … Getting wise counsel from someone who looks at your resources and capabilities with fresh eyes may be just what you need to go beyond your limits and forge new fundraising success in previously uncharted territory.

You’re not sure what to do next
Sometimes being in fundraising is overwhelming. Direct mail, e-newsletters, events, planned giving, direct-response TV, banner ads, print ads, websites — these are just a few of the options we have for investing our fundraising budget. Every day, we can find new products we could be exploring, analytics showing that combining X and Y can improve our results, and case studies suggesting every nonprofit should be doing Z.

Few fundraisers work in a world of unlimited budgets. When we test something new, we probably have to sacrifice something else. Your “personal trainer” can help you maximize the investment, define your next strategy and identify best practices.

Begin by looking for assistance from someone who isn’t just selling a product; you first need a fresh look at your entire program to find the gaps where there is potential for improvement. Only then should you look for consultants and companies to help you address specific needs, making sure the solution enhances what you are already doing.

You’re hesitant to try something new in case it doesn’t work
Some nonprofits are risk-adverse. And some fundraisers are risk-adverse, probably because of being knocked down by risk-adverse employers who expect a home run every time you step into the batter’s box.

A good fundraising personal trainer can help you evaluate the risks of new programs and get past the initial love affair to see the pros and the cons. He or she can help you build a solid business case and set expectations. And, you’ll have someone to guide you as you extract learnings and build a more robust program for the future based on today’s results.

Consider hiring a consultant if you find yourself in one or more of these situations. Go into the relationship with a clear goal, and see if you can’t get motivated and see better results today and tomorrow because of partnering with your personal trainer.

Next week: When not to hire a personal trainer for your fundraising program.

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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