The 11 Commandments of Fundraising – Part 1

I didn’t start out to be a fundraiser. I had no formal fundraising education when I took over the fundraising department when the prior staff member resigned. I had to learn through trial and error, through reading and attending training and through talking to donors.

The most important lesson I learned is “I am not the target audience.” You may have heard me say that before, and I can almost guarantee you’ll hear me say it again. As fundraisers, we should carve those six words on the cornerstone of our minds.

But there are other “commandments” I’ve discovered over the years. In fact, there are 11. Following are the first four; I’ll follow with the rest over the next two weeks.

Commandment No. 1: Thou shalt not “take time off”

Your donors care about what you are doing. So tell them your successes, your struggles and your stories. Year-round. Every month.

Yes, I know donors complain that you mail too much. They tell you to save money and stop contacting them — they will still keep giving. But the reality is that if your donors aren’t hearing from you, they can forget about your needs.

Honor your donors’ wishes by reducing the volume of your contacts if they ask, but make sure you keep in touch with them. “Time off” is a recipe for being forgotten.

Commandment No. 2: Thou shalt not ignore all the options available to you
Having a variety of active fundraising strategies will help you survive the economic ups and downs and keep income flowing.

This is when it is especially important to remember that you aren’t the target audience. You might not read direct mail that comes to your mailbox, but it is responsible for major amounts of income to nonprofits. You might think planned giving is depressing, but some donors appreciate the opportunity to know the programs they supported in life will be funded after they are gone.

E-mail, direct-response TV, radio, newspaper ads, social media, corporate sponsorships, events, telemarketing — these are just a few of the valid options for fundraising, some of which may be appropriate for your organization. You won’t know if you don’t explore them.

Commandment No. 3: Thou shalt not bore
Is your newsletter the “same old, same old” issue after issue? Was the last time you added new content to your website in the Bush administration? Do you use the same photos so much your donors feel like they belong in the family album? Have you asked your major donors to fund the same projects year after year, without adding new dimensions to make them fresh and exciting?

Your donors deserve to learn something new about your programs on a regular basis. The stories you tell them will encourage them and show them that their gifts are making a difference. Keep your content fresh and your design appealing, and your donors will anticipate hearing from you.

Commandment No. 4: Thou shalt not pander to …

A board member, a major donor, a vocal staff member – who is it that is influencing your strategies? “I would never read a letter more than a page long,” one tells you. So you reduce all your mailings to one page without testing the results.

I once had a board member suggest we cut out everything but receipting since the bounceback gifts it generated had such a good return on investment. (Apparently he forgot that the direct mail, major-donor cultivation and telemarketing generated the gifts that led to those receipts.) Another time, we didn’t do data overlays because a mid-level staff member in the IT department thought it was offensive.

Yes, you want to be collaborative and a good team member. But don’t let a single person’s opinion make you forget what you know about good marketing. Test, test, and test some more – and use that “opinion” to formulate your strategy.

I’ll share four more commandments next week. Meanwhile, what are the most important commandments you subscribe to as a fundraiser? Please share them below in the comments.

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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