Every few years, my husband and I venture out for some springtime skiing—when the skies are bluer, the temperatures are higher and the crowds are thinner. As I catch my breath from a day on the slopes, I’m reminded that spring skiing has some similarities with fundraising. Honest! Here’s how:
You need the right equipment. It’s difficult to be successful with fundraising unless you have people who are at least warm to your cause and have the financial means to give, a case for support that presents a real need and has a sense of “now” (why give and why give now?) and a solution that gives potential donors confidence that your organization is the right one to address the need.
There are trade-offs. The great part of spring skiing is it’s warmer; the bad part is all that warmth is hard on the snow. In fundraising, you are constantly making choices, too. Budgets limit your ability to do some things, a smaller file size can reduce your options and leadership decisions can prevent you from pursuing some things that you really believe in.
It’s not all downhill. Just like skiing requires you to get up the mountain, so you can go back down again, fundraising can take hard work to get the results that are really exhilarating. Investing 18 months or more to cultivate donors can be difficult, but when they give that transformational gift, it’s all worth it. Bringing all the pieces together to have a successful multichannel appeal is sometimes a slog, but when donors respond by giving, you know the time invested paid off.
Sometimes it’s not what you expected. No matter how much you study the map, you can turn a corner on a ski slope and encounter the unexpected—good or bad. That’s true with fundraising, too. You spend hours putting together a budget and a timetable for an event, and it rains on the night of your enchanted garden party. Or the speaker turns out to be so much better than you even expected, and your attendees are moved to give far more than you hoped for. The news cycle can impact a mailing, your website can go down right when your email hits, a donor can blow off a meeting—fundraising is unpredictable!
Practice may not make you perfect, but it makes you better. I’ve been skiing for decades, and I’m still only average. But as long as I can, I’ll keep trying because I enjoy it so much. That’s true for fundraising, too. I am regularly learning something new or having something I “know” challenged. That’s why continuing your fundraising education matters—through magazines, books, classes, webinars, seminars and the other great opportunities we can access. We all represent important causes and are addressing worthwhile needs, so everything we learn is an opportunity to move a step closer to the day when that need no longer exists or is at least diminished.
Knowing your limits can be a lifesaver—or at least a donor saver. There is no room in fundraising for grandstanding or bluffing. If you don’t know an answer, say so. It’s a great opportunity to find out the answer and then get that information back to your donor. And this applies to using fundraising tools, too. If you don’t know what makes a great fundraising appeal or how to ask for a gift, for example, seek help from someone who does know. Donors are usually quite forgiving, but eventually, their patience can wear thin. We owe it to these great partners to always present them with the best fundraising possible.
It can hurt. As I write this post, every muscle in my body is crying out for mercy. I love skiing, but it’s not without some bruises and aches. Fundraising is much the same; you can love being a fundraiser and the cause you represent, but sometimes, it hurts. When a donor says “no,” an event flops, a grant request is turned down or so many other ways our hard work doesn’t result in the income we hoped for, you may want to quit. But learn what you can from failure and start over. We’ll all occasionally experience the pain of a fundraising failure, but the exhilaration of success is the best way back!
Without question, fundraising is not for the faint of heart. It is challenging—but rewarding work. This old dog encourages you, as you hurl yourself down the mountain to your next challenge as a fundraiser, to keep at it. You are making a difference, one donor at a time.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.