For over ten years I have worked with organizations of all sizes, raising millions of dollars through capital campaigns, events, and personal relationships. What I have learned is that there is no “one size fits all” for raising money. However, there are fundamentals in the work that can be applied to all organizations. I like to think of organizational development as the 4 Ps: philosophy, people, process, and partnerships. I am convinced that development doesn’t hang on the sheer ability or personality of “the development guy.” It is a system that can be learned and implemented. It isn’t an either/or. It isn’t personality versus process. It is both art and science.
You may want the quick fix or the silver bullet, but they don’t exist. There is an order and rhythm to this work, and if it is done right it is sustainable and profitable. If it is done wrong, it eventually turns upside down. Getting it right from the beginning is the key to managing your organization’s resources in the best way possible.
When you get your oil changed, the shop usually tells you that the air filter is awfully close to time for replacement. They even demonstrate the gunk clogging up the system with great gusto, wanting you to feel guilty at the very idea of driving away with such an atrocious piece of equipment in your car. I certainly appreciate the value of having filters—they are the gatekeepers, whether in the car, the furnace, or the water faucet. Filters allow the good stuff to get through and hold the bad stuff back.
A philosophy statement for an organization does exactly the same thing. It is a grid for decision making that allows the suitable decisions to get through, while the unsuitable decisions are filtered out. It is an absolute requirement for an organization that will make an important difference for a long time. It clearly defines the core values of fundraising for everyone involved: the board, leadership, staff, volunteers, and even donors.
Filtering questions are a great way to get an organization to get to the heart of their philosophy statement. Here is a list of questions you can ask of the leadership in your organization:
- What methods of fundraising fit your organization?
- What will you do when you are pushed against the wall and need funds for payroll and operating expenses?
- How do you know what fits you and what doesn’t?
- Who defines suitability?
- Who makes the final call on the fundraising programs?
- What will you say yes to? No?
- How does your mission statement line up with prospective programs for fundraising?
- Are you consistent in your approach to donors?
- Are you designing a strategy that will be comfortable for your donor base?
- How do you manage the pressure to try the latest and greatest ideas?
You should also be clear on what your donors expect from you in return for their gifts. You need to know if these expectations fit your philosophy. Gifts can strangle an organization with golden cords. After the elation over a large gift settles down, what is the reality? Will you ultimately be hindered by accepting someone else’s goal for your organization along with their gift? Some additional questions you can ask around the subject of motivation and donor expectations are:
- How do we handle gifts with strings?
- What about the mutual benefit of fund raising?
- Will we be expected to reciprocate with other organizations?
- What if a restricted gift stops the flow of operations?
- How do we manage donors who control with their funding?
These filtering questions allow the organization’s leadership to set parameters and guidelines. A philosophical base gives direction for the organization to hold the course. Get your philosophy statement on paper and make it a part of everything your organization says or does.
I was serving in a fundraising capacity for a nonprofit several years ago. After some time on the job, I was curious if my three kids knew what I did for a living. So I asked them.
Their response: “You have lunch and dinner with people.” Their answer highlights the essence of a foundational problem in the fundraising arena: a tendency to focus on tactics.
Fundraising is a discipline—one documented in academic research and literature, one that is supported through extensive consultative and training services, and one that should be practiced by professionals who have studied the art and science behind what it takes to successfully raise funds for nonprofit mission and vision purposes.
But some fundraising programs suffer from the leadership of fundraisers who are new to their positions. In the absence of experience and knowledge, they replicate the tactics of their predecessors or of other nonprofit organizations who may very well be functioning the same way.
The field of fundraising is hardly alone in this respect. Companies routinely ask people to lead and serve in areas where they don’t know what they don’t know.
To be clear, there are many outstanding fundraising professionals in our field serving worthy nonprofit organizations. To them, this may simply offer an important reminder: that fundraising should be driven from a data-based, strategic perspective, not a tactical one.
For others who are newer to the profession, my hope is that I can challenge you to redefine fundraising. Nonprofit missions need quality support and professional leadership.
What is involved in diagnosing an organization’s donor development challenges? How does diagnosis inform a comprehensive strategy? How is strategy executed? I hope that this paper can shed some light on these important questions and provide input for those seeking a deeper understanding of how to construct a strong, comprehensive fundraising program, one that really works for their organization.
Greg Mortenson is best known for his bestselling books, Three Cups of Tea and Another Cup of Tea. But no one knew who he was back in 1993 when he first started trying to raise funds to provide educational programs to young girls in Pakistan. His first attempts at fundraising were a complete failure. He sent 580 letters to celebrities, businessmen, and popular Americans. He received one response from Tom Brokaw for $100. He wrote 16 grant requests, every one of which was rejected.
Mr. Mortenson ran headlong into the same problem faced by many nonprofits. We take what is familiar and craft a strategy around it. We discover a technique that works, and then continue the cycle by repeating the newfound tactic. If direct mail proves to be a successful way to connect with donors willing to give, we send more mail. If running major donor events or capital campaigns was helpful, then that becomes our focus.
What began as a single tactic becomes the centerpiece of our strategic plan, even if we didn’t fully understand what made it “work” in the first place. But the plan says “do it again,” further cementing the practice as a staple in our fundraising diet.
In time, we build an ecosystem around the tactic by hiring staff who writes direct response letters, crafts compelling videos, designs beautiful websites, or plans memorable events. In the process, we institutionalize our fundraising strategy around specific creative capabilities, but with little strategic understanding or thought. Our tactic informs our strategy instead of using a robust, data-driven strategic planning process to inform a balanced and comprehensive suite of practices.
Unfortunately, most fundraising consultancies operate the same way. Too many direct response consultants will tell you that your funding needs can be solved through printed letters and postage stamps. Website design firms tell you a new site will cure your communication and donor connection concerns. They have creative strengths. They do that work well, so it’s understandable that they are going to try to sell those specific services in the form of a solution.
Is it wrong to capitalize on a strength? Of course not. But if we aren’t careful, strengths cause us to miss opportunities to connect in new ways with new constituents, or to enhance what was once a strategic strength but has been weakened over time through almost mindless repetition.
So how do we break the cycle where tactics drive strategies, which in turn drive the same tactics and strategies over and over? We redefine the fundraising strategic planning process.
This is an excerpt from Redefining Fundraising, a whitepaper by Curt Swindoll, Executive Vice President of Integration and Strategy at Pursuant. Click here to download the complete whitepaper. For other Pursuant whitepapers and on-demand webinars, visit our Resources page.
Pursuant is proud to announce that we are the recipients of six honors in this year’s Telly Awards competition for our work with clients such as the American Heart Association and the University of Arizona Wildcat Club.
Founded in 1978, the Telly Awards is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional and cable TV commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions, web commercials, videos and films. The Telly Awards annually showcases the best work of the most respected advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators and corporate video departments in the world. The Telly Awards is a widely known and highly respected national and international competition and receives over 11,000 entries annually from all 50 states and many foreign countries.
The American Heart Association’s “Jump Rope for Heart” video, which was a part of their overall campaign promoting physical activity, heart healthy living, and community service to children, was recognized with two Telly awards: a bronze Telly for online fundraising, and a silver Telly for visual effects, the awards’ highest honor.
A video created for the University of Arizona Wildcat Club honoring their inclusion in the PAC-12 and introducing their new athletic director was awarded two bronze Telly awards for online sports and editing.
Our video for the National Religious Broadcasters 2011 conference promoting the merger between Pursuant and KMA Direct Communications also received a bronze Telly for promotion by a production company or ad agency.
Another client video from a national television campaign was awarded a bronze Telly in not-for-profit broadcast.
We are humbled to partner with such wonderful clients to help them tell their stories in such a powerful way that the results are recognized with such a prestigious honor! Click here to read the full press release.