What to Be Obsessive About

My dad was obsessive. I remember him cutting the lawn well into the dark of night, because he had decided to do it and he couldn’t rest until it was done. Unfortunately, he had an electric lawn mower, so the cord was distinctive by the number of splices in it from being run over and severed in the dark.

One of the great things about direct-response fundraising is that a lot of what we do — while important — comes with a second chance. Most of our loyal donors are very forgiving (kind of like that power cord).

If our offer is a bit weak, they will still open the next e-mail or newsletter we send — and our most loyal donors may respond anyway because they trust us to do the work they love. We may limit our income for that project, but we can redeem ourselves with the next effort. (In other words, let’s not close up shop over the project that fails; let’s just not make it a recurring event.)

But some things are worth obsessing about. We mess up, and we’ll pay the price. So, choose your fundraising obsessions carefully, and you’ll keep your donors loyal and your good work will increase.

Be a slave to your schedule
Ideally, you began 2012 with a plan and set the date for each e-appeal to be sent, every direct-mail letter to be dropped into the mailstream and each newsletter to be written. But then “life” got in the way. You had an emergency project, your writer got the flu and the spring event has become all-consuming.

That’s life — but it’s not a reason to fall behind on your schedule. Keeping in regular communication with your donors is critical to help them grasp the severity of the need you are addressing, understand why your solution is second to none and support your nonprofit.

Working for a nonprofit is almost a guaranteed way to never have enough time. But staying on schedule with fundraising projects is critical to your organization’s success — and therefore, your success as an employee. Find that schedule you created, blow off the dust and then get back on track. The end result — income — will be a reward for your slavish devotion to the plan.

Stay on message
Sometimes it’s tempting to build a fundraising project around something that seems far more sexy and interesting than the same-old, same-old your nonprofit usually does. Expanding your services is not a bad thing (and boring your donors to death is not recommended), but don’t confuse your donors by straying too far from what they expect of you.

If you introduce a new program that is a bit of a stretch, take the time to bring your donors up to speed through articles in your newsletter and e-news and updates on your website. Then, when you send them a direct-mail or e-appeal, they will be more likely to respond because they will equate that work with what you — their favorite nonprofit — does.

While it’s exciting to do something new and different, donors may have more trouble keeping up with your changes. So smooth the path before them, and invite them to come along with you. Meanwhile, keep assuring them that you are still doing the work they love — and have supported for years. Jarring changes can be hazardous to your fundraising success.

Fixate on donor service
In January, I received several receipts for year-end gifts; one barely arrived before the end of the month. I understand that year-end giving (usually) exceeds other months, but that’s not an excuse for taking four weeks to receipt a donation. Knowing our giving patterns means we have time to prepare by bringing in additional staff or volunteers, cross-training current employees to help out with the deluge of year-end gifts, and budgeting for overtime as necessary.

This is only one place where we need to be passionate about donor service. Donors call, e-mail and write to us; these aren’t interruptions in our day, but rather opportunities to strengthen relationships with our supporters. They hit milestones in their giving — cumulatively giving $1,000, giving for five years, etc. These are opportunities to surprise donors by recognizing their accomplishments and thanking them.

While cutting the grass at 11 p.m. may not be practical, obsessing over our fundraising schedule, our message and our donor care is essential. If we want to succeed as fundraisers (and isn’t that why you read FundRaising Success?), focusing on these three things are important stepping stones on the path to realizing that goal.

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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