Surviving ‘One of Those Days’ in Fundraising

As I write this article, I am nearing the end of the second day in a row where pretty much everything went wrong. None of it was really my fault; I did everything I should have, but for whatever reason, even simple things just didn’t work out.

Isn’t that just like fundraising? You plan and strategize, check everything (at least) twice, follow your schedule to the minute … and something happens. There’s a typo; the mailer misses your drop date; the data is wrong; the insert is overlooked; the salutation says, “Dear [Name];” the link to the landing page is broken; or any number of other possible “oops!” moments.

While it’s hard to think past Dec. 31 right now, you can be sure that sometime in 2016, you will experience some problem in your fundraising program. So be prepared, and keep these things in mind.

1. Make sure the people who need to know, know. This generally is the person answering the telephone or responding to emails that come into the general mailbox, anyone who has a personal portfolio of donors that was impacted by the error, and, of course, your boss. Just tell them the facts and let them know that you will …

2. Review the process and make necessary changes to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.Personally, I think what makes an employee great is, in part, his or her ability to determine the weak link in the process chain and replace it. If the mailer was too rushed because of added work at year-end, add in more lead-time for the last few months of the year. If the link didn’t work, build in a redundant process to check it before the email is sent. If the data was wrong, build in time to carefully review samples that have live data in them.

Mistakes are a fact of a fundraiser’s life; just do everything you can to not let the same mistake happen again. And be prepared to …

3. Apologize as needed. Maybe this is a sign of my age, but to me, “My bad” just doesn’t cut it. (And since your donors are probably aging Baby Boomers like I am, don’t be surprised if they feel the same.) I can tell you from experience that leaving off the salutation on a name so “Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smith” becomes “Bob Smith” can irritate a lot of your female donors. Don’t fall on your sword if it isn’t merited, but at minimum, when that key donor calls and “nicely” informs you of the error, thank her for calling and apologize: “I’m so sorry. I assure you we value your support so much, Mrs. Smith. We made an error and will work very hard not to let that happen in the future.”

When, for example, a day’s receipts are mailed out with the wrong year on them (been there, done that), you can send a short note with the corrected receipt: “We apologize for this mistake and for any inconvenience it caused. You are a good friend to XYZ organization, and I thank you for your partnership.”

You may think these recommendations are over the top, but a sincere apology can go a long way to smooth ruffled feathers. Plus, research has shown that it can actually strengthen your relationship with that donor. Keep that in mind and …

4. Maintain perspective. Your boss may be less than happy, a key donor may call in and complain, your colleagues may be snickering, but the truth is, most of the mistakes we make in our direct-response programs aren’t life threatening. (Frankly, I always was glad that I didn’t have the job of carving things in stone on the side of a building. Now that’s pressure!)

This doesn’t excuse sloppy work, but when you’ve done all you can and there was still a mistake, don’t despair. Consider it proof that you are human. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” Fundraising is all about doing!

As you think about your 2016 plans, remember to proactively think about how you will handle the mistake that almost is certain to occur at some point, even if you do everything right. This old dog knows that some days are just like that (or in my case, two days). Start thinking now how you will respond and you’ll be on the way to a great new year of fundraising.

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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