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Downes Murray International News

The five deadly sins of fundraising

 Here’s a list of how otherwise strong and successful development operations fall into the five deadly sins of fundraising:

Sin 1: Failing to prioritise fundraising
For so many non-profits, the development office is a second-class citizen. Organisations that relegate fundraising to second-class status will never, ever reach their full potential. They are artificially limiting the amount of good they can do. Fundraising isn’t just part of your work – it is central to your work. Thriving non-profits prioritise fundraising, and they feel good about doing so. Remember, fundraising isn’t evil. Neglecting your fundraising = neglecting your mission. And underinvesting in fundraising is the biggest fundraising mistake
non-profits make.

Sin 2: Thinking small
Many non-profits that manage to avoid the first deadly sin fall victim to the second. Yes, they prioritise fundraising. Yes, they know development is important, and so they give it a seat at the table – a central role in carrying the non-profit forward. But they think way too small. Charities have big missions and solve major problems for millions of people. Yet many of them think small when it comes to fundraising. You know you have found a small-thinking non-profit when you hear things like, “let’s set a goal of raising 5% more this year than we did last year.” Or, “we can only serve 20% of the homeless in the city this year. Next year, let’s raise enough to serve 30%.” Remember, if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big. And, if your organisation is stuck in a fundraising rut, there are ways to break out of that plateau.

Sin 3: Taking the easy way
Organisations that take the easy way out are selling their missions short. Taking the easy way with fundraising can take several different forms. For many nonprofits, it means avoiding in-person asks and cultivation at all costs. These charities never ask in person when they could call or write an e-mail. They like events better than lunches with prospects, and they prefer direct mail and newsletters to events or phone calls. Other organisations take the easy way by always asking for too little. They want to make fundraising ‘‘easy’’. Non-profits that take the easy way out perennially raise less than they otherwise could. These organisations need to understand that fundraising is hard. There is no “easy way” to become a thriving non-profit.

Sin 4: Strong arm fundraising
I am a big fan of building fundraising networks – cultivating and stewarding your donors in such a way that they happily open up their own address book to help you find new prospects for your organisation. Sadly, many nonprofits misunderstand this concept. They forget that you always need to cultivate before you ask. Instead, they try to get their supporters and board to over use their contact lists, calling in favours and shaming people to give donations. If your board and donors are shaming, forcing or cajoling people into giving, those people who give will be onetime donors. You will not grow a relationship with them, and they won’t want to be part of your cultivation or stewardship funnels. Remember, your goal is to maximise lifetime donor value, and in order to do that, you have to follow the formula: prospect, cultivate, then ask.

Sin 5: Failing to innovate
The fifth and final deadly sin of fundraising is a failure to innovate with your fundraising strategies and tactics. Organisations that fail to innovate don’t maximise revenue, and they often fall victim to sudden changes in their fundraising fortunes. One non-profit I know relied on a gala event for 50% of their annual fundraising goal.

The local pro football team always served as the lead sponsor for their gala, and the players all came and donors came to the event to mingle with the players. Then, the team changed owners. The first year, the new owner made a much smaller sponsorship gift, but still sent the players at the behest of the team’s PR rep.

The reduced donation hurt the organisation, but they still did all right because lots of people still bought tickets to the event. The next year, the team dropped the sponsorship, and none of the players came. This killed the event. In just two years, the organisation lost over 30% of its annual operating revenue. All because they had rested on their laurels, and refused to innovate.

How does your non-profit stack up against the 5 deadly sins of fundraising? Which sins tempt your organisation? What can you do to get back on the straight and narrow?

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