Observations on Fundraising

For a class I am currently taking, I have been working on my observation skills. This involves going a few times a week to a local diner and observing the behaviors of the regulars who sit at the counter. It’s been eye-opening — and a reminder of how much I miss when I am lost in my own world of copywriting, editing, strategizing and reading.

So, in an effort to “open my eyes” more to the world, here are a few observations I’ve made this week that relate to our work as fundraisers.

We don’t lack data; we lack time to absorb and use it

Most database management systems for nonprofits have dozens of reports available at the touch of a button. Some are useful, some are interesting and some … well, they are just downright confusing.

My apologies to those of you who have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. As fundraisers, we are like Hans Brinker, who discovered the leak in a dike in Holland and plugged it with his finger. Every day, we come in to work and check our “dike.” Some leaks are obvious — for example, donors are lapsing faster than we can replace them. Some are more subtle.

Figure out what you need to know to make good decisions about the most serious leaks, and concentrate on the data that will help you monitor — and improve — those areas. Once you’ve fixed the small leaks, continue to monitor them, but add additional reports to help identify the less obvious problems. Trying to do everything all at once — and absorb all the data you have available — is a recipe for disaster.

We don’t lack external information, either
It seems that a few times a week I see an article about a new survey, research report or analysis that pertains to fundraising. Each one promises to offer value to me — and I suspect most do. But time is limited, and the data, it seems, isn’t.

Consider selecting a few regularly updated reports, and make it a priority to read and study them. Choose ones that have consistently provided you with actionable information or great ideas that apply to your mission, donor file size or interests, and that come from respected sources. Make it a point to read these immediately when they come out, and identify learnings that you can put into action within days.

If you have a larger staff, assign some of the other reports to your colleagues, and create a standard way for everyone to share learnings. That way, everyone benefits from all the options, but no one person has a reading stack that stretches to the ceiling.

I contend it’s better to read a few things and apply them quickly than attempt to read everything — and accomplish little of it.

We forget that fundraising is about people
I received my first 2013 calendar in the mail this week, and frankly, it was beautiful. I think I will use it — and yes, I will mail in a donation. It subtly promotes the nonprofit, is designed to be useful and has meaningful photos.

Unfortunately, too many calendars (and other fundraising tools) become all about the nonprofit to the point that the donor’s likes and needs are completely overlooked. Sticking with the calendar example, what good is a calendar that has such small boxes you can’t note doctors’ appointments in them? Or that has photos that are, frankly, kind of ugly? Do I really want to look at that for a month?

As fundraisers, let’s always ask, “Is this going to be appreciated by the donor?” Did we avoid great design that renders the copy unreadable? Is the packaging easy to open? Do the images load quickly on our website or in our e-mails? Are we accurately representing our work? Are we respecting our donors’ time by honoring their expressed wishes about mail volume?

As I watch my group of regular diners for the next few weeks, I’ll be noticing their habits and preferences. Our donors deserve the same careful observation. After all, they are the real people behind our paychecks.

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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