Principles of Fundraising, IMHO (Part 1)

Last fall, the class I had taught for several semesters at a local university was renamed. It was no longer called “The Art of Fundraising.” Instead, it is now “Principles of Fundraising.”

While the new name didn’t require a change in my syllabus or lectures, it did cause me to step back and ask, “What are the principles of fundraising that I think are most important? What do I most want my students to remember as they are launched into the world as professional fundraisers?

I came up with 10 principles, adding an 11th after my first time teaching the course with the new name. I’ll share those 11 with you over my next three columns, and welcome your additions after I’ve completed my list.

Principle 1: You are NOT the target audience. So figure out who is.
If you read my column regularly, you would have expected this to be at or very near the top. I know I am repeating myself! But this principle is that important.

  • “I don’t like it.”
  • “The copy is too long
  • “That color doesn’t work for me.”

I’ve said all of those things from time to time. But honestly, who cares what I think? The only thing I should be asking (assuming we’re on the right side of ethical) is, “Will this copy/design/color raise money?”

As a fundraiser, you know too much about fundraising. As an employee of a nonprofit or a consultant to one, you know too much about the inner working of that organization. Your donors or prospects don’t have that insight. Remember that. You’ll never see your target audience until you ditch the mirror.

Principle 2: You have to spend money to raise money.
We all know that every penny that goes to fundraising is a penny that isn’t available for programs. But in the world of good causes, “If you build it, they will donate” is seldom true. People don’t wake up in the morning with an overwhelming desire to seek out from the masses the one nonprofit (yours) that is worthy of their disposable income.

Acquisition is generally a losing game, as far as profit is concerned. Retaining donors means continual contact, and that, too, costs money. But failure to retain and acquire more donors is far more costly – the end price is the collapse of your nonprofit.

Don’t waste money, but invest it. Invest it in the fundraising activities that will yield more money and more donors. Wisely spend some money, and you’ll raise more money.

Principle 3: You have to ask to receive.
Most donors expect to be asked. Studies have shown that major givers cite “not being asked” as a key reason why they don’t give. Yes, they knew what you were leading up to, but they still expected you to ask them for a gift.

For some people, asking is simple. Others are great on relationship building, but struggle with actually asking. But practice does truly make perfect – or at least a whole lot better.

Whatever channel you expect to raise money — letter, e-mail, website, face-to-face, brochures, etc. — will fail if you don’t ask. So ask. Clearly. Directly. Without shame.

Principle 4: Use multiple fundraising tools for balance.
Major gifts can be impacted by the economy. Direct mail can be ignored if there is major news event unfolding when your letter arrives in-home. E-mail can get lost in spam filters. The rise of mobile phones and the subsequent decline in landlines can make phone-athons less effective. Events fail because of snowstorms or thunderstorms. We just can’t control everything.

That’s why we want to always have multiple fundraising activities happening at the same time. It’s like a stool; the more legs on your stool, the better balanced you’ll be if the ground shakes under you.

Don’t rely on one fundraising tool; instead have a strong foundation that is multi-faceted. Keep testing new things and add in the ones that produce positive results.

Are my principles so far just common sense? Maybe. But have you noticed how uncommon common sense can be? And one thing I’ve learned in my three decades of fundraising is that it’s not rocket science. It’s constantly working to stretch every dollar to do more, to communicate better to our donors, and to touch hearts and open wallets.

That what matters in fundraising.

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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