The Board Fundraising Diet

Fundraising can be akin to healthy eating: If you diet regularly, you likely dread Diet’s Eve, when you say to yourself, the diet starts tomorrow.” But if you modify your habits and eat well regularly, the diet becomes more palatable—a regular part of your behavior. A culture of philanthropy infuses fundraising into your daily board diet. It makes fundraising palatable.
Contrary to popular belief, new board members should not be running out to ask all their friends for thousand-dollar checks. Fundraising is the process of empowering those who take interest in the mission to support a cause they love. Most of them are looking for a worthy organization where they can invest their charitable dollars. That’s right, they are already planning to make philanthropic gifts this year and want to invest their money in the smartest way they know. They are shopping around for the right opportunity.
So, how can board members best inform those charitable shoppers?

  • Make a personal financial gift. There’s no better way to demonstrate your own faith in your organization.
  • Serve as an ambassador. Talk about what drew you to this organization—whenever you get the opportunity.
  • Find and cultivate new supporters. Engage and invite your circles to attend a program, tour the facility or attend an event.
  • Monitor the budget. Ensure that income streams are on target to make budget goals, the basis for a fundraising plan.

If you’re dying to ask people for money, work with the staff and board leadership. They will be thrilled to partner with you. But assuming that you are like most people and not exactly tickled about that process, rest assured that there is plenty that you can do to affect fundraising by simply being a good board member. A healthy fundraising diet consists of much more than asking directly for gifts.

Should Foundations Be Part of Your Fundraising Mix?

It’s official: Foundation giving has officially exceeded pre-2008 levels. Many of us have been waiting for this day. Then, why is grant-seeking still so targeted and competitive? Is it worth the effort? I get asked that question often these days.

My response: If your organization has a compelling message and competitive results, then yes. It’s certainly true that nonprofits that are now entering the grants game for the first time face significant challenges. Staff must come prepared to deliver succinct, compelling statements about its work. Employees must forgo early-state proposal writing for cultivation efforts. They must know when to contact program officers and when to back off. In short, there are more nuances than ever.

Preparation is also increasingly critical. It begins with solid research. A long list of prospects is not typically a good result these days. It tends to signal a need to cull through the list again. Why? As with all types of fundraising, there is a true opportunity cost to pursuing grants. When you begin the process—or continue it—with a honed plan of action, you reduce the likelihood of rejections or time wasted getting to “yes.” While a development plan lays a solid foundation for any fundraising shop, solid planning within each funder type can focus staff on the most important foundations and their year-round deadlines. Consider making a plan, keeping a calendar of activities, and maintaining regular touch points with potential donors throughout the year.

For nonprofits who have done their homework, created a solid plan, and are ready to diligently execute it, foundations can still be a good funding partners. Not only do they continue to fund new and expanding programs, they often provide bridge funding while a nonprofit develops other revenue sources. A growing number provide capacity building assistance. Still others are open to the increasingly creative breakthroughs in our sector. So, don’t give up on foundations. Just be prepared to spend more time in the lead-up to the solicitation than you do on the proposal.

Write a Great Fundraising Development Plan: 7 Key Elements

Is there is really a benefit in creating a written development plan? Many organizations rely on the one in the chief fundraiser’s head, or the one sketched out in the income lines of the operating budget. Too often, those “plans” are low on accuracy and are unlikely to see strategic adjustments if the income does not come in as expected.
A good plan will contain these elements:

  • Analysis of recent fundraising results
  • Current contributed income need
  • A realistic projection of what can be raised
  • Infrastructure improvements that would benefit fundraising efforts
  • Goals and strategies by funder type
  • Relationship-building strategies
  • Timeline and accountability calendar

So, the plan is a terrific internal gauge. It highlights an organization’s recent fundraising results and trends. It builds upon them and allows for reflection. It also encourages conversation about the barriers that might be keeping the organization from attaining more: Are board members engaging prospective donors? Are employees making personal gifts? Are the area’s five capital campaigns taking a toll on the annual fund? As the year goes on, the plan lets everyone know, with specificity, whether the organization is on track to attain its income goals.

It is also a roadmap. If your major donors are dropping like flies, it is not enough to find another high net worth prospect. Your development plan will lay out the strategies that will help retain current donors. It forces you and your team to think through opportunities and weaknesses that form the foundation of all of your solicitations.

The plan is also an educational tool. Board members, and sometimes executive directors, can have outsized expectations about the ease of the fundraising process. A development plan that includes all of the requisite elements illustrates the many pieces that lead up to a gift. It can provide the back story on why last year’s goals were not attained, or the resources needed to make this year’s goals achievable. It can spark conversation about infrastructure needs. It also lets stakeholders understand how they can help. Anyone who has a hand in fundraising can read and comment on the contents. Good development offices will listen carefully to the feedback and incorporate it into the plan.
Maybe most importantly, a plan allows an organization to project realistic income benchmarks. Many organizations base their (sometimes unrealistic) fundraising goals on program costs, but development plans enable programs that have a realistic chance of being funded. That change in mentality makes a big practical difference.
When staff and board members review the plan at least quarterly and suggest tweaks that account for the unexpected, the document can become a backbone for the most ambitious and well-run fundraising operations.

Essential Fundraising Tip: A Case for a Case?

Does your organization go from appeal to appeal, grant to grant, recasting its message for each next document? A case for support—the neglected child of fundraising communications—can provide consistency and clarity for your donors. Not to mention efficiency for you and your staff. Coming up with a hook can be the most time-consuming part of the writing process, and this tool forces a focus on that core message.

A case statement provides the most compelling reasons for your organization’s existence. A great one takes shape by asking those closest to the mission—staff, board members, donors—why they feel so connected to this organization. Contrary to popular belief, it is less a list of programs than it is your most rational and emotional reason for being.

The case becomes your mantra. It underlies all of your other messaging. Its contents become enmeshed in your website, your appeals, your grant proposals.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently published an article touting the effects of repeated use of a message across multiple media. In some cases, when an image was emblazoned across a nonprofit’s website, e-blasts, direct mail pieces, even billboards, fundraising increased by double digits. Call it branding, call it marketing. It works. When that advertising is grounded in a case for support, graphics and taglines transform into well thought-out prose. It allows donors to translate those sound bites into something more substantial.

It can also serve as a donor cultivation tool. As you put this document together, you can ask supporters what they think about the draft and how they might suggest strengthening it. That process serves as a great reminder to donors as to why they love your organization. It also makes them feel part of your inner circle.

So, ask yourself and your core supporters: Why is our mission essential? Why do our donors keep coming back? Which of our stories is most compelling? What are some of our major successes? What is our vision for the future?

Once you have a solid case statement in place, do you still need to tailor communications for each individual donor or funder? Sure you do. But, the core of your message will be consistent—a drumbeat that makes your mission resonate.

An Occasional Series on Effective Fundraising Recommendations

Do You Want to Become a Fundraising Consultant?

Many nonprofit staffers dream about going to “the other side,” as a consultant.  There are many real challenges in making that leap, and even once you do, the career choice entails continuous learning around both the content of your consulting as well as business acumen.  The idea of running a business is quite foreign to many of us who come out of the nonprofit sector.  This year, I was privileged to edit The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook: Winning Strategies from 25 Leaders in the Field, with Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE.  The 25 contributors to the book, as well as hundreds of other consultants I have met this year, have helped me winnow down a few of the key principles that typify successful consultants in our field.

Seek the support of your peers

Yes, we are technically competitors, but this is one of the most generous groups of colleagues around.  I’d like to think that this generosity is a result of our roots in the nonprofit sector.  If you are a new or aspiring consultant, ask a respected colleague to serve as a mentor, and you are likely to get an enthusiastic “yes.”  Plenty of veterans still consider themselves green enough to hold onto a valued sage.  Many more seek the ongoing guidance of peers over time.  After all, consultants juggle business development; client relations; and the latest developments in grants, campaigns, technology, and the development field generally.  We need all the insights we can get.

Let your values guide you

Your knowledge of the field plays only a partial role in your consulting success.  The way you make that first impression, negotiate the contract, and regularly communicate with a client carries just as much weight—and there is no magic formula to perfect any of these things.  Solid ethics are the thread that runs through them all.  If you are honest, reliable, and a good listener, you build trust.  Trust is your number one asset.

Follow your path to success

What I loved most about compiling The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook was affirming the success of consultants with all sorts of business models.  I have met successful specialists and generalists, those who work locally and nationally, those with staff and those who are sole proprietors.  All are successful in their own right.  If someone gives you a prescription for their success, infuse it with your own goals and values before moving forward. For instance, if I had a dollar for every push I’ve gotten to move heavily into social media, I could take a nice vacation.  But my emphasis on targeted, rather than mass, networking and writing has resulted in a steady flow of clients.  Of course, others’ businesses thrive on social media.

Even if you are just beginning to explore consulting, consider using these principles to lay the groundwork for your business plan.   As with most things in life, solid advice—infused with a heavy dose of intuition—makes for the strongest foundation.