Routine Screening of Your Fundraising Program

Earlier this week, I had a “routing medical screening.” No big deal — just an opportunity to make sure everything is still operating the way it should and no unwanted things have snuck in while I wasn’t paying attention.
That reminded me of the importance of the occasional screenings we need to do on our fundraising programs. Keeping our eye on how things are working can help avoid the need for “surgery” later on that could be far more painful. So here are a few tips for maintaining good fundraising health.

Set aside the time
It’s easy to be so caught up in the day-to-day details that we forget to step back and look over the big picture. Setting aside enough time to look beyond the immediate is essential.

Yes, looking constantly at income for different activities is of paramount importance. But so is looking at things less obvious like number of gifts per donor per year, attrition, average gift, lapsed recovery, recovered donor retention, second-gift renewal of new donors and much more.

Invest solid blocks of time on a regular basis to look at the overall health of your program. Then ask, “Why?” Why is this happening? Why isn’t that happening?

Know what to look for
As part of your “health screening,” look especially at the trends. When something is getting worse year over year, that’s a red flag. What needs to be fixed? What strategies should you test to work toward improvement?

When something is staying level, is there an option for improving it? What are the tweaks you could test that might get the fundraising effort back on a growth trajectory? And when something is improving, are there learnings that you can apply to other efforts?

Poke deeper from time to time, looking for the less obvious
On occasion, it’s important to step back and ask yourself what you are missing. Is there a fundraising tool that makes sense for your nonprofit that you haven’t tested? Is there something you are doing that has outlived itself?

This is also a good opportunity to look at what your donors are saying. If you don’t regularly read or hear their comments, set aside some time to hear their voices. No, we don’t want to make radical changes based on a few vocal supporters, but sometimes a common thread emerges that you can easily address that leads to a stronger fundraising program.

Have a ‘buddy’ along as another set of eyes and ears
Inviting someone else to look at the details with you can help give another perspective. Sometimes we get too attached to things to honestly evaluate them. Or we can’t see any alternatives, even if what we are doing isn’t working as well as it should.

Inviting someone you respect — even someone from a different discipline than fundraising — can sharpen your view. I used to bounce ideas around with an IT staff member; he understood enough of my world that he was able to help me see deeper and give me the reports that would help in my efforts to improve my results. Valuable partnerships like this can help you get or keep your fundraising program healthy.

How often should routine screenings be done? If you aren’t doing them at all, aim for every six months, and work toward quarterly. Those checkups can lead to healthier fundraising — and therefore, healthier fundraising employees.

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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