For Fundraising Success in 2016, Ask the Right Questions

One of the first things a fundraiser learns is that he or she doesn’t have all the answers. We rely on testing, experience, data and, sometimes, our gut to help us make decisions about how and when to invest our fundraising dollars.

However, I’ve found that in the busyness of our work, we don’t always ask the right questions. And while now is certainly not a quiet time for fundraising (as Tom Belford wrote in “The Agitator” a few days ago: “December has nothing whatsoever to do with building donor relationships. Rather it’s scorched earth time. Last chance to make the numbers … ”), it’s important to ask the right questions before we step into the new year and basically do what we’ve been doing in 2015 (and perhaps for several years before that).

1. “Are our decisions based on our donors’ needs or just on our organization’s needs?” I think the most important message I’ve heard in all of 2015 came from Roger Lawson at the International Fundraising Congress. It bears repeating here: “Fundraising has become too focused on the needs of the beneficiary. In the future, we need to be at least as concerned with the genuine needs of the donor.” What do your donors need from a giving relationship with your organization? Do you even know? If so, are you delivering on those needs on an ongoing basis? If not, what steps can you take to find out?

2. “If a basic fundraising tool is no longer working, why not?”Too often we rush to make tweaks or even wholesale changes instead of checking to see if there is another reason for the downturn. Is your mail being delivered in a timely manner? Is your donation processing team (in-house or external) staying current? Is your data accurate? Are you acquiring the right people (as in people likely to keep giving beyond the first gift) to begin with? Sometimes it’s time to replace a fundraising tool—but make sure it is the problem, not the manifestation of something else. Otherwise your salvage efforts may do more long-term harm than good.

3. “Do we have a process to learn from mistakes or is it all about blame?” I received a Giving Tuesday email from one nonprofit with a bad link to the donation form. I’m not pointing fingers here; I’ve made more than my share of mistakes! But the lesson in a mistake is to make sure there is a system of checks and balances in place to ensure they are minimized. To accomplish that, every time you err, take a few minutes to ask—and answer—these three questions:

  • What went wrong?
  • How will I fix it?
  • What steps can I put in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Assigning blame doesn’t really solve the problem if your system is just going to fail again and again.

4. “If I can add just one new fundraising effort in 2016, what should it be?” Constrained budgets and overworked fundraisers can make it difficult to willingly think about what more you can do. But before you step into 2016, allow yourself time to dream about the one thing you would do if you didn’t have to worry about time and money. If it excites you enough, can you make it happen in 2016? I have a paperweight on my desk with a quote that has been attributed to multiple people—but is a challenge to each and every one of us: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

Whether you consider December “scorched earth time” or your favorite time of year as a fundraiser, this old dog knows that making each new year even better—for our fundraising results and for us as fundraisers—isn’t a guarantee. Start with these four questions and add your own. Think about them as you sit in traffic, brave the crowds at the mall, shovel snow (if you’re in a colder climate), wrap packages or do any of the many mind-numbing tasks of December.

What will you do differently in 2016 to make it your organization’s—and your—fundraising summit year?

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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