It doesn’t take long for a fundraiser to learn that it costs money to raise money. Even a post on Facebook takes a few minutes to write — and time really is money. But fundraisers often find themselves having to defend their expense budgets and fight to keep the income budget from being inflated without any plan (or budget) for raising that extra income.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “Hope is not a strategy.” Yet, board members and some executives at nonprofit organizations sometimes seem convinced that money will come in, even without investment in fundraising — a strategy of hope if there ever was one.
We all have learned that wishing doesn’t make fundraising success a reality. Nor does a single ask usually result in a gift. It takes time to identify people with an interest in your mission, build a relationship, establish trust, make a case for your solution to a problem — and eventually receive the donation.
There is no easy solution to this battle. And yes, it is a battle, because fundraisers know that the mission will not be accomplished if there isn’t enough money to fund program. I’ve never met a committed fundraiser who wanted to just spend money on fundraising; rather, fundraisers constantly are looking for where they can invest money to raise even more money.
If you’re facing the challenge of convincing a board or leadership team that investing in fundraising is essential for the organization’s future, there are a few ways you can help make your case. It won’t be easy, but the payoff could be a growing, healthy nonprofit, accomplishing more and more every year.
Make sure the numbers mean something
It’s easy to produce a report from the donor management system or Excel. It’s much harder to guide the recipients to a point where they understand what that report is saying about the future.
Make sure every report you share with management or leadership includes a summary of what it means; don’t leave it up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions (they may be wrong). Your number of donors acquired has been flat for the last three years? What does that mean for next year and five years from now? The average gift is declining? How will that affect program delivery?
Your job is to make the numbers tell a story — preferably the story you want the reader of the report to hear. That doesn’t mean you lie or withhold information; in fact, mixing good news with bad news can help. Seeing the positive things for the organization can help build commitment to doing more things right.
Show scenarios when investment is not made
If you stay on your present course for donor retention, for example, what will that mean in five years or 10 years? If you have 10,000 donors who gave in the current year but this number is declining by 5 percent each year, in 10 years you will have fewer than 6,000 donors. If the trend for your 50,000 donors is to lose 10 percent a year and you do nothing but maintain that level, in 10 years you will have just 17,434 donors.
Showing a similar longer-term impact for a declining average gift, shrinking acquisition investment or any other key factor for your nonprofit’s success can help leadership understand that not spending money now will hurt for years to come. But don’t make executives work to reach this conclusion; the picture you present — be it an infographic, pie chart or other method — can help make the reality you worry about every day become the problem that leadership wants solved.
Show scenarios when investment is made
Don’t just share the bad news. For example, explain how an investment today in intentional donor acquisition (not just the acquisition that spontaneously occurs) will compound over time. Share evidence that some major donors gave their initial gifts through an acquisition mailing or via your website appeal.
If every active donor increased his or her annual giving an average of 5 percent next year, how much more income would that produce? If you could reactivate twice as many lapsed donors, what would that do to the bottom line? If you could turn interested people into donors, how much more good could your organization do with that added income? Present the well-thought-out strategy you recommend to accomplish what you are presenting.
This old dog knows how easy it is to give up asking for even a small increase in fundraising investment. Singing the same song over and over, and at full blast during budgeting season, is exhausting. But it does cost money to achieve more success in fundraising, so we have to keep fighting that good fight.
And keep celebrating every victory. The added money to invest in acquisition this year may not be enough to solve all your problems, but if you make it work hard and then show the results of that investment, the challenge to get more may be a bit easier next year, and the year after that.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.