I’ve been ruminating on some random fundraising issues this week, perhaps because I have been in my car more than usual. While each is worth mentioning, none fills a full column, so here’s a compilation of some “news you can use,” as it were.
Learn from others. I’ve been reading “Cases in Nonprofit Management: A Hands-On Approach to Problem Solving” for a class I’ll be teaching in the summer. This 2017 publication by Pat Libby and Laura Deitrick reads like a novel in the sense that the cases are presented as narrative, but the topics feel like they are right off the pages of a fundraising news report. The book includes cases covering the board of directors, strategic decision-making, grant-making and 11 other relevant topics.
While you may not want to sit down and read this book cover-to-cover (it can get depressing after a while if several of the cases strike too close to home), but it is a helpful way to direct your thinking if you are facing a similar situation or want to avoid getting into one. The questions at the end of each case are a great tool for a nonprofit leader, board member or fundraiser wrestling with similar situations (or hoping to avoid them altogether).
Measure what matters. I was recently talking with someone who was feeling a bit overwhelmed with a robust software program that can do just about everything, if you only have the time to figure it all out. For fundraisers, if we have the flashiest donor management system or one that is lacking, it can still be difficult to sort through the options to determine what numbers to study to be able to set actionable goals for measuring success.
The “donorCentrics Index of Direct Marketing Fundraising” from Target Analytics looks at results from large nonprofits and reports on key measurements. While you may not see any logic in comparing your smaller organizations to the gargantuan members of our sector, the report is a goldmine when it comes to knowing what to measure. If you focus on the eight they include in their publically available report and add in total revenue and number of gifts (breaking it out between new and recurring donors, if possible, and fine-tuning it a bit further to consider average gifts, gifts per donor and revenue per donor), you will have a goldmine of information that puts stepping stones in front of you for determining where you need to go to make significant improvements. You’ll need to determine priorities, of course, as trying to do too much not only can lead to competing goals but can lead to despair.
Start out right. Throughout my career, I purchased books from time to time that I felt would be go-to references for the future. Like you perhaps, my employers had no money to build a library for me, so every book or magazine (this was before free online newsletters) had to be more than the latest publishing flash-in-the-pan. I still have the first book I purchased; it shows its age and is definitely outdated, but it reminds me that, when starting in fundraising, having a foundation based on the knowledge of those who have already done it is essential.
That’s the reason I worked with Stanley Weinstein to update “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management” (fourth edition). I have owned a copy of that book for more than 20 years and, while I have never begun a fundraising program from the ground up, I’ve dog-eared its pages checking out best practices, advice for a new (to me) process or ideas to consider when I wanted to change something to (hopefully) make it better.
Live out thankfulness. Earlier this year, Boomerang reported on their study of closings in emails and found that the most effective closings (in descending order) were thanks in advance, thanks and thank you. It’s easy to see the common thread here—saying “Thank you”! Other studies have been published with variations on this same theme, and it’s hard to argue that a simple thanks is more than just an addition to your word count.
Many fundraisers write “thank you” notes and letter (both for mass distribution and one-on-one to a donor), and it can get incredibly routine. Sara Algoe, PhD, from the University of North Carolina has published multiple times on her research on gratitude, including the Find-Remind-Bind theory of gratitude. In brief, this states that expressing gratitude not only helps you create relationships, but also helps those relationships flourish.
Learn from others. Measure what matters. Start out right. Live out thankfulness. This old dog knows that it takes more than these four things to be a successful and fulfilled fundraiser, but this isn’t a bad place to begin for anyone new to the profession or looking to hit the reset button on his or her career in the nonprofit sector.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.