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In the beginning... some advice for the smaller organisation and those just starting out in fundraising

 Much of the fundraising advice that is published for non-profit organisations is aimed at the larger, more established organisations with fairly sophisticated and developed fundraising programmes.

I thought it was time to offer some words of encouragement to the smaller organisations and those just starting out on a fundraising development programme. In other words, those non-profits doing no less valuable work than the high-profile ones, but whose struggle for funding is much greater, and often needs a somewhat different approach.

I’m sure many of you have experienced the situation when you first faced the task of fundraising – the Director and your Board are pushing you for results: everyone is suggesting different methods of achieving them, and expecting you to start out in 20 directions all at once.

The first and most important bit of advice is: don’t allow yourself to be rushed or pushed into an unplanned programme. Never rush off without proper preparation. Make sure that your organisation knows its mission. Develop a proper case statement (with the input of members of your donor/potential donor constituency).

Invest in feasibility studies, donor surveys, and discussions. Take time to train volunteer leaders and workers. Attention to these and other planning and preparation details will smooth the road ahead.

Start slowly
Build your fundraising and development programme one step at a time, starting with the annual giving programme. Special events like dinners and competitions may well have a place in your fundraising, but they don’t build an ongoing relationship, and they won’t create long-term giving habits.

A properly organised direct mail programme, for budget funding that allows everyone in your support group the opportunity of giving at least once a year, is the essential starting point to building the necessary relationship with donors.

Use newsletters to inform your donor constituency about your needs and the various ways in which they can help. In your newsletters and your printed literature, talk about bequests and their importance to the long-term continuation of your work. 

And above all, make sure that you are building towards a programme which gives as many people as possible the opportunity to contribute – from the widow’s mite to the mighty millionaire’s millions.

While we’re on planning – develop long and short range plans. A long range plan which you can review and update with your organisation’s Board or Committee will help you focus on the ultimate development programme you’ve set and will prevent you from getting so impatient that you rush ahead with too many activities all at once.

Short range planning calendars for each fundraising activity (allowing for delays and problems) will keep you from being overtaken by Murphy’s Law.

Board Members
Find the right leaders. When you recruit Board members or volunteer leaders, be sure that you spell out what is expected of them, and give them a clear understanding of your organisation, its mission and its structure. Don’t collect Board members whose names will look good on your letterhead but whose commitment is lacking. As the fundraiser, development director, public affairs officer or whatever you may be called – your task is not to do the day-to-day fundraising. You must concentrate on co-ordinating and orchestrating the programme whilst the right volunteers, with the right amount of “TFI” (Top Financial Influence) do the actual solicitation.

You need to make sure that you have the right balance between existing donor renewal programmes and new donor acquisition. If you put all your efforts into a programme that concentrates only on existing donors – you may well produce maximum income for a while – but you’d be ignoring the future.

Keep the balance and be sure that your annual plan includes new donor solicitation. Use your special events to build lists of potential supporters who can be recruited to become regular donors in the mail.

A word of warning. Don’t get so enthusiastic about your own ability that you involve your organisation in projects that it cannot sustain. If you lead the organisation into an activity it’s not ready for or does not have the finances or facilities to support – think about what can happen if one day you are no longer there to hold it all together.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. An objective viewpoint is often invaluable. Ask a colleague in non-profit work, ask a volunteer businessman to take a look at your operation and give you an outside perspective, or ask for professional fundraising advice on a “payment for time” basis. A half-day or a full day consultation can provide an in-depth look at your organisation and your development programmes, from someone with the experience of many different non-profit organisations. An audit of your organisation and its present activities is one of the easiest ways to put together the necessary information base at the start of a fundraising development plan.

With acknowledgment to Terry Murray in Fundraising Forum No. 13 – July 1990.  

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