Elements of fundraising success

I was invited to give a presentation at the conference of the Northeast Institute for Quality Community Action last Wednesday. The request was to pull together a session called Fundraising…Elements of Success.

Like most conferences, I had an hour and a half to present a pretty complex subject. It’s always a gamble what the individuals attending a session expect to hear. Should I spend time on the technical nuts and bolts? Should I walk the group through various types of funders and what makes for success with each one?

I chose instead to focus on what years of practice have revealed to be the heart of successful fundraising. While I am a strong advocate of solid infrastructure and technical knowledge , those “basics” are just one element of what you need to successfully raise revenues for your organization.

Here’s what I stressed instead:

1. Connect to your donors’ dreams. As fundraisers, we can easily get hung up in all the things that money can buy for our organizations. But what moves our donors to make large gifts is connecting both emotionally and intellectually to the big impact that helps them realize their own vision of the world they’d like to see. You’ll hear this again and More…again from seasoned fundraisers… donors give to dreams. If you always think in terms of “hitting people up for money,” you’ll never have the investors in your organization that you say you want.

2. Shower your donors with love. Now, more than ever, we can’t afford to take our donors for granted. In tough economic times, donors may cut back to the organizations that they feel most deeply about. Part of that will come to mission. But a big part of who stays and who goes has to do with how connected they feel to your organization, whether they know that their gifts are really having an impact, whether or not you really appreciate them and the donations they send. Even in the best of times, the number one reason that donors say they stopped renewing their giving is because they felt that the organization was indifferent about their gift.

3. Inspire evangelists. Here’s the question I asked. If I ran into someone from your organization, whether that was your Executive Director, any one of your staff, a board member or even a volunteer or client, how long would it take before they started to tell me about how important, interesting, exciting, fulfilling (add word here) their work with you was. If your closest insiders are telling the world about you with passion and conviction, who else will? Word of mouth is the most desired form of advertising.

4. Have Chutzpah. You’ve got to be bold. You’ve got to be fearless. You’ve got to believe enough to call almost anybody to raise those precious funds for your organization. I see too many fundraisers write people off for services or gifts before they have ever had a single conversation with them.

5. Invest in the basics. This is all that technical stuff. It matters. But it alone won’t raise money for you.

6. Believe in abundance. Americans spend $15 billion on bottled water that is no better than the free stuff that comes out of our taps. We spend $8 billion on cosmetics. $2 billion on BUBBLEGUM. We aren’t competing with each other. We just haven’t made our case that the work we do matters a lot more and is way more fulfilling to a prospective donor than even the difference between what they spend each day on that ridiculously embellished coffee drink and a perfectly decent, but plain old cup of java.

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