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Six mistakes nonprofit fundraisers make, and the lessons we can learn

Charitable giving is a huge part of our culture, but it isn’t easy. As service demand continues to rise, so too does the need for donations. And, as much as we would like to imagine a world of spontaneous giving, the fact is that money does not raise itself.

Most gifts are prompted, and you are going to need a fundraiser for that. But fundraising isn’t just a job, it is a profession. One that takes a great deal of skill. It isn’t easy. Even the most seasoned of fundraisers make mistakes. What is important is that you learn from them. That’s why we have taken a look at some of the most common fundraising ‘faux-pas’ and put together some tips you need to help you fundraise successfully.

THE MISTAKE: We need money. Im going to ask everyone in our database, now.

There’s a funding gap and pressure is on to fill it. You blast email everybody you know – individuals, trusts, corporations – and ask them for money.

THE LESSON: Spraying and praying is not a sustainable approach. Sure, some asks will stick. But if you do not take the time to tailor your mailing list (and ask) you are wasting valuable resources.  Ask your warmest prospects first. This will help you screen out those who are unlikely to respond – reducing the number of unwanted approaches and making your fundraising campaign more efficient. What better way to boost ROI?

THE MISTAKE: There is so much need out there. If we show people how much, they’ll donate.’

You capitalize on the numbers, stories, and images that will shock and shame people into giving you money.

THE LESSON: Yes, you need to tell the situation as it is, but fundraising is not about using other people’s pain. Before you create your next direct mail appeal, or publish your next case study, think about the people in the pictures and how you share their story. Your job is to amplify their voice, not speak for them. And remember, good fundraising should not rely on guilt and pressure tactics. It is about offering people hope. The chance to be part of the solution.

THE MISTAKE: I dont need evidence; I know what our donors want.

You have just created your donor profile. You have a basic outline of donor demographics, and that tells you everything you need to know.

THE LESSON: A successful fundraising strategy should always be based on what you know, not what you think you know. Demographics are a good first step. But the more you understand why donors give to your nonprofit, the better. Look at the data. What is it telling you? If it’s a little sparse, do some fundraising research. Build a questionnaire into your next newsletter, run an online campaign, talk to your donors. Get creative and get out there. Because a fundraising strategy based on assumptions will soon run dry.

THE MISTAKE: ‘We’ve been doing it this way for years; we know what works.’

You’ve tried pretty much everything. You have a recipe that works and see no need to take a risk or try anything new.

THE LESSON: Fundraising is a profession that is continuously evolving. You only need to look at the growth of digital technologies to see how much. Take some time to see what other nonprofits are doing. Keep an eye on changing and best practices. But just because the Jones’ are doing it, does not mean you have to. If you do not innovate, you limit the potential of your fundraising practice, and risk finding yourself at the sharp end of digital disruptions.

THE MISTAKE: ‘Yes! Someone’s just given us money. We must ask them for more right away.’

The money’s in the bank. Your next campaign is due to go out, so you skip the thank you and add your new donor to the mailing list.

THE LESSON: When someone takes that first step and makes a donation, it is up to you to follow-up. The goal, of course, is to sign each donor up as a regular giver, to increase their giving levels, and work towards a final, legacy donation. It’s a process that takes years. So, don’t feel like you need to get the next ask out right away. Fundraising is about relationships. Your donors are not credit cards, they are people. Say thank you. Plan for communications that engage and don’t just ask. This improves donor retention and makes fundraising more sustainable – helping you to build a database of long-term, engaged donors. That’s far better than spending to refill a bucket of one-off donations.

THE MISTAKE: ‘‘Fundraising is easy. I’m going to triple our income this year.’

It’s strategy planning time, and expectations are high. There’s a new fundraiser on board, and that means organizational income is going to explode overnight.

THE LESSON: Fundraising is not a quick fix. Whether you are working with individuals, trusts or corporations, developing a sustainable fundraising model takes time. Your board might be expecting miracles, but you need to push back. Don’t just pick a figure that makes people happy. Look at existing trends, response rates, and donor profiles. Take stock of past campaigns. What’s worked? What hasn’t worked? Don’t just put it in a file. Use this information to develop research-led fundraising strategies that drive your organization forward.

Phew! It’s quite the list. Did any of it sound familiar? Perhaps you have made some of these mistakes yourself in the past, or maybe you know another organization that has. Don’t worry though. Fundraising is a process, and a good fundraiser knows they will never stop learning. So put some time aside to take stock of your successes and mistakes. Learn from them and use this experience to create a fundraising strategy that takes you – and your organization – to the next level.

thankQ CRM can help you get the most out of your fundraising efforts.  Contact us to see how. Set up your personalized demo today.