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The five immutable laws of great non-profit fundraising

When it comes to getting your fundraising ‘right’, there are certain rules you simply can’t afford to ignore. Joe Garecht reports 

Much of fundraising is an art, not a science. Knowing when a prospect is ripe for an ask, or how to craft a case for support that really tugs on the heartstrings takes experience and practice. There are, however, several immutable, undeniable laws of great fundraising that are so very essential to the process that they can’t be overstated.  

Simply put, if you want to be a thriving non-profit with rapidly growing fundraising revenue, the following rules are incontestable:

Law 1: Prospect – cultivate – ask – steward
The only way to really succeed in fundraising is to build life-long relationships with your donors. The only way to build those types of relationships is by following the non-profit fundraising formula: prospect first, cultivate second, ask third, steward fourth. Rinse and repeat.

Non-profits that try to jump right from prospecting to asking, or spend too much time cultivating and never move to asking and stewardship, do so at their own peril.

Law 2: Spend 5% planning and 95% doing
Action matters in fundraising. Raising money is hard work, and it takes repeated effort and time to do it right. That being said, non-profits also need to spend a small amount of time planning their work and mapping out their donor relationships. So... what’s the best mix of planning and action?

In working with hundreds of non-profits, I have found the right mix to be about 5% planning and 95% doing. If your organisation is not spending at least two hours of every week planning, you’re likely missing something important.

Similarly, if you’re spending too much time planning and not enough time out there building relationships, you’re not maximising your fundraising.

Aim for 5% of your time planning and 95% of your time doing.

Law 3: You don’t have time for everything. Focus on the 20% that matters
I have never worked with a non-profit that had the time and resources to pursue every fundraising idea and strategy that came across their plate. Far from it. Most charities are under-staffed and boast a fundraising budget that is far lower than they actually need. So... what’s a non-profit to do? Focus on what matters.

My recommendation is to put the Pareto Principle into action at your organisation. You know (or will find out) that 80% of your results come from just 20% of your fundraising efforts. You’re likely spending lots of time on some tactics (maybe an event or a direct mail campaign?) that aren’t raising enough to justify the effort. In the same way, you’re probably short-changing some tactics that you could really knock out of the park (perhaps in-person major donor cultivation?).

You’ll never have the time to do everything you want to do. So focus on what matters and what is working, and cut out (or delegate to volunteers) those fundraising tasks that aren’t moving the ball forward. 

Law 4: Meet – call – write – email
When performing any fundraising activity, there is a simple hierarchy that determines what method of donor contact will bear the most fruit.  It is: meet – call – write – email.

Whether you are prospecting for new donors, cultivating current prospects, making fundraising asks or stewarding your current relationships, you should always be thinking about whether or not you have the time to have a one-on-one or small group meeting with your contact. If not, then ask yourself whether you can schedule a call. If not, then think about writing them a letter. If you can’t do that, then send them an email.

Why? Because time has shown that when it comes to fundraising, in-person meetings are far more effective than calls, which are far more effective than personal snail mail letters, which are far more productive than personal e-mails.

The more personal and intimate the contact, the better relationship you will build with your prospect or donor.

Law 5: Leverage your relationships or suffer the consequences
No non-profit has the ability to rapidly grow their fundraising by simply relying on gifts from their current donors. None. (Except, perhaps, those organisations started and funded by one mega-donor in the millionaire/billionaire range. But for most non-profits, this simply isn’t the case).

If you want to dramatically increase your fundraising, you can’t do it with your current givers. Instead, you have to rely on leverage. Specifically, you need to leverage your current donor relationships into more prospects by asking your donors, board members, volunteers and staff members for referrals. Then you need to go out and cultivate those referrals, make an ask, and then ask them for referrals.

That’s how great fundraising works – your non-profit is constantly feeding the donor funnel by asking your current supporters to introduce you to their own network. After a few years of doing this, the process starts to grow organically, and before you know it, you have more prospects than you can handle (what a great problem to have!).

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