Although I am now a fundraising consultant, I worked for about three decades for three different nonprofits. That’s long enough that it left an indelible imprint on me, and I still react like an organizational fundraiser when I hear stories on the news that directly or indirectly impact nonprofit organizations.
The truth is it’s impossible to keep up on everything that matters, or potentially could matter—and that’s not for a lack of opportunities. Like many of you, I read numerous e-newsletters every weekday morning, at least scanning the headlines to see if there is anything I need (or want) to know. I listen to news radio in my car and try to catch the TV news on a regular basis. I subscribe to a weekly news magazine, get news updates on my phone and regularly look at news sites online. All this in a desperate need to know what’s going on in the world.
Here’s what all these current events have triggered that I’ve been worrying about at night when I can’t sleep, or when I am stuck in the never-ending L.A. traffic:
1. How safe is our data? Yes, as a fundraiser, you probably have a person or a group of people responsible for that. But you are the “face” of the organization for many donors, and they trust you. So you have an obligation to know enough to feel confident you can answer in the affirmative if a donor asks if your organization safely maintains data.
A few months ago, my “go to” credit card was compromised and a new one was issued. I received the new “super” card with a chip (I admit it, readers from outside the U.S.—we’ve been a bit behind with our credit cards here. Chips are just recently showing up in our credit cards). Ten days ago, while I was in Indiana, my new card was having a fine time shopping in London; apparently my credit card is better traveled than I am. Fortunately, the credit card company caught it, the card was cancelled, I am not out any money and I have a brand new card. But, it makes me wonder—where did the breech of security occur? Could it have been when I made a donation online?
I can’t answer that, but if I were working as a fundraiser in a nonprofit right now, I would ask (not just once, but a few times a year) what security measures we have in place to protect data. And this goes beyond credit card data; when an entire donor file can be put on a $5 flash drive, knowing the precautions in place to prevent this and protect an extremely valuable asset of the organization deserves a fundraiser’s attention.
2. How well-documented are our processes? The reality is very, very few people stay at the same job for their entire career. And it’s amazing how much is known by only one person who has copious notes either in an unreadable scrawl or only in his or her head.
It’s not fun, but everything that matters to the function of raising funds and retaining donors must be documented. And that documentation must be so detailed that almost anyone could pick it up and implement the process.
Part of being a fundraiser is being creative, so hopefully you can come up with a creative way to make documenting tasks fun. Set aside an hour a week and follow it with a favorite treat. If you have a larger team, add this to its weekly task list as well, and make it a measurable performance goal. Brainstorm all the processes that need to be recorded and put a master list on the wall that everyone can refer to—both to see what’s needed and to celebrate what’s done.
Another advantage of documenting your processes is you can pinpoint what works—and why. I recently heard someone say, “The reason you need to know what it is that is making something work is so you know what to fix when it isn’t working.” That applies to fundraising, and all the things we count on to bring in our income.
Documenting processes won’t raise a single dollar—until someone leaves, and you find out that no one else has a clue how to send out an e-appeal or generate a thank-you letter.
3. What are we saying about our mission that is different from what everyone else is saying? Even if you’ve never read the 2000 book by Jack Trout, its title and subtitle should be your mantra: “Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition.” Does your organization’s website depict a unique story, or could it be boiler-plate copy for a number of other organizations?
If you haven’t written a case for support for your organization, maybe it is time to do that. (Not sure how to begin? You can check out my earlier article on this subject here.) What is unique about your organization that will make a potential donor say, “Now that’s cool!”? What will keep them from saying, “Oh yeah, another organization that does ____. I already support one of those.”?
Fundraisers will never be without things to worry about, but hopefully there are many, many things you are celebrating, as well. This old dog knows that you have a tough job just raising the ever-expanding budget, let alone worrying about the kinds of things I included in this article. But I also know that any one of these three things, when ignored, can make it even harder to do the fundraising part of your job. Don’t despair and think you have to do it all this month. After all, raising funds at year-end is a huge—and vital—job. Just prioritize them and include them in your goals for the next several months so by this time next year, you can speak with confidence about your organization’s data security, you don’t worry about who’s going to quit and leave you hanging, you have a story to tell that is exciting and unique—and oh yeah, you’re sleeping better at night, too.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.