The Choices Every Fundraiser Faces

At last week’s Bridge conference, I was struck (again) by the many choices facing today’s fundraiser. Having a robust direct mail program and major gifts program, with a little planned giving and maybe an event tossed in, is no longer enough. Now, we need a website that is informative and optimized for mobile, and that has a user-friendly donation page. We have to frequently update our Facebook page and post a steady flow of videos on YouTube. Add to that e-news; e-appeals; print newsletters; meaningful volunteer activities; and whatever else our board, leadership and donors expect from us, and it’s no wonder the task can seem impossible.

Choosing where to invest limited time and resources—the curse of most nonprofits, I’m sure—may seem like rocket science. It’s nearly impossible for some of us. But listening to the presentations and seeing what’s new and a “must have” for our industry led me to jot down these principles for making better choices about fundraising:

Principle No. 1: Price should not be the only decision point.Unfortunately, this is where many nonprofits begin (and end). For some reason, we believe “you get what you pay for” is true with most decisions in our lives, but when it comes to fundraising, it is fine to opt for the least expensive options. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we believe it’s the best choice to reach our target audience because…

Principle No. 2: What you do does impact who you reach. We all have our preferences, and generalizations are often unfair ways to categorize people. But there are some fundraising methodologies that work better with people at different times of their lives. We need to be sure we’re choosing the ones that talk to people who have disposable income (for more on this audience, check out my earlier article), because fans and followers probably aren’t enough to keep the lights on. Know whom you want to reach, and then approach them where they are—don’t expect a potential donor to go searching for you.

Principle No. 3: Just because it costs a lot or is trendy doesn’t mean it will work. This is the flip side of Principle No. 1. Fundraisers need to ask the tough questions for any expenditure, but especially when you are considering tossing out something that is proven for an unproven solution. I frequently hear about a nonprofit organization that made a wholesale change, only to have to “turn the clock back,” as it were, within months. It may sound sexy—and have a price tag to match—but if it’s wrong for your target audience, the risk may be too great. Choose what you think will have the most value to your fundraising program, not what has the most bells and whistles.

Principle No. 4: It’s not a crime to repurpose or reuse—in fact, it’s smart. When something works for you in one channel, try it out in another. Your best story shouldn’t live only on Facebook. A terrific photo has life beyond a single newsletter. While we can get tired of something, donors generally don’t, so if it’s great, find more ways to use it.

Principle No. 5: Watching the numbers is critical. Looking at the reports long enough to determine what they are telling you may not be your favorite part of fundraising, but good data can help you make better decisions and spot problems before they blow up. When you combine knowledge gleaned from the data with your own experience, you increase the likelihood of making good decisions. Yes, we have a tremendous amount of choices in today’s fundraising program, and we may want to—or feel compelled to—excel in all of them. But always stay focused on reality. This old dog knows that sometimes you have to say “no,” even if it’s a great idea, because doing 10 things poorly seldom makes up for doing five things well.

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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