Our Overloaded ‘Bag of Tricks’

Back in the dark ages — oh, around 1999 — we fundraisers had many things to draw on to gain a donation. We had direct mail and newsletters, events, planned giving, one-on-one meetings, radio, and direct-response TV. It was a tough job, just keeping up with all the messages we were sending out through these mediums to donors and potential supporters.

Now we have so many more tools for raising money — e-mail, banner ads, social media, websites, ads on social media, blogs, content for multiple platforms of mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) and more (I presume; I got tired just listing all those, so I gave up). Quick! Can you give a scintillating description of your nonprofit in 140 characters or less? Oh, for the glory days when attention spans were longer than three seconds.

OK, enough moaning. It’s actually a lot of fun these days to figure out the best way to use some or all of these great new tools, and it’s even better because many of them are fairly low-cost compared to the more traditional fundraising methods. But it’s still a balancing act to figure out which ones will give us the best overall return on investment, especially since our day remains 24 hours and using some of those for sleep and “a life” is still a necessity for most of us.

So here’s how this old dog gets the most out of our 21st-century bag of tricks, maximizing income and still having time to enjoy these good current days.

Stay focused
As a fundraiser, your goal is to raise money, not simply to have followers, fans, friends and whatever other word is trendy to describe people who have some kind of tenuous connection to us. It’s great to have all those followers, but if they aren’t moving toward becoming donors or becoming more committed donors, you have to figure out how to turn them into valued supporters. If you just want names, you can get a phone book. Truly committed donors require a focused strategy.

Stay true to what works
Adding new ways to communicate with donors should not be a simple exchange. You know — “We want to do X, so we have to stop doing Y.” By all means, stop “Y” if it’s not working. But you’re going to need a mix of fundraising techniques to communicate across the generations. E-mail and a great website are terrific, but if that’s all you can offer, you are leaving behind a whole bunch of people who for whatever reason aren’t reading your e-mail and won’t give online. You’re going to have to figure out what a donor’s “love language” is and talk to him or her in that dialect, be it direct mail, e-mail, text or by phone.

Hire smart
When it comes to adding staff to strengthen your fundraising team, think about what skills are going to provide the most impact on your bottom line. If your donors are mostly older, a specialist in social media may not be your best investment, for example. Think about what talents you and your existing team (if you have one) have, and look for someone who brings different skills that match your needs.

Insist on experience
If you are a homeowner, you probably wouldn’t tackle installing a new furnace and air conditioner, replacing your sewer line, or building an addition unless you had those specific skills. You’d want an expert. That’s true with fundraising, too. It’s our job to protect our mission and our donor’s investment by bringing in partners who are truly qualified.

Few people can “do it all.” I know, even after 35 years in this business, I can’t — and I’ll point you to someone who I consider a true expert if you were to ask for my help in some areas. (By the way, this isn’t just “advice” from a consultant; I followed this for the nearly three decades I worked for small to midsized nonprofits. Money for consultants is hard to come by; invest it well!)

Keep learning.
You may not be able to master everything (I sure can’t!), but having a good knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of each item in your bag of tricks can help you know where to focus your energies and your limited dollars. And mastering something new that interests you is such a rewarding experience.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were wondering if this new thing called the Internet would last. This old dog has absolutely no predictions about the next new thing, but I assure you this — I’m going to do all I can to learn about it from those who are the early adapters and figure out if together we can make it a powerful fundraising tool.

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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