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10 Things You Should Know About Successful Fundraising by Jennifer Vigne, CFRE

January 20, 2016

Jennifer Vigne

Jennifer Vigne, CFRE

Anecdotal stories abound about non-profits that have raised significant money.  “ABC organization receives largest gift in its history.” “Generous donor bequeaths biggest gift to her alma mater.” “Charity X endowment grows by double digits.”  You get the idea.

These accomplishments create tantalizing headlines that singularly focus on highlighting a non-profit’s new revenue.  Yet as successful fundraisers well know, there’s always more to the story than what’s mentioned in the headline and much more work involved that got them to that success.

As President of the AFP Southwest Florida Chapter, our association is committed to advancing ethical and effective fundraising.  We recognize that fundraising is a long-term investment that needs daily shepherding.  If done well – thoughtfully, consistently, and strategically – then non-profits will transition from survivability to thrivability.

Listed below are ten things each of us should know about successful fundraising.

  1. Have a Vision:
    Be willing to dream big and create ambitious goals.  As Jim Collins, author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, remarks “Have a big, hairy audacious goal (BHAG) and seek progress toward an envisioned future.”   Donors are inspired by a compelling vision and they want to see your vision in action which is evidenced by your passion.

  2. Create a Plan:
    A recent post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review highlights research that suggests the clearest predictor of successful fundraising is the existence of a formal fundraising plan. Creating a clear plan of action with quantifiable metrics, timelines, and goals will keep the lens clear and help you remain focused on your objectives.  As Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.”  Don’t let your plan get dusty on a shelf, use it! And, if you don’t have a plan, begin one today. It’s really that important.

  3. Master the Art of Communication:
    People remember 10%-30% of what they hear, and 80% of what they will say so allow your donors to share their story before you tell them your story. Before you know it, they will be telling your story if you actively listen to them. Isn’t it ironic that the word listen has the same letters as the word silent?

  4. Value the Relationship:
    It’s important to understand fundraising trends and general fundraising principles, but it’s equally important to understand your donor as a remarkable individual.  They are each wonderfully unique, thus understanding their individual values and giving preferences is key.  Giving USA reports that in 2014, 72% of all giving was by individuals and 8% came from bequests.  That’s a whopping 80% of all giving that can be attributed to the individual donor.  In short, this is an area worth your time and investment.

  5. Appreciate the Donor Cycle:
    Solicitation is only one part of fundraising. Sure, it’s an essential part of raising money, and no organization will be successful without it.  But successful fundraising strategies include all components of the donor cycle (identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship).  This moves management system requires the element of time, and gifts will harvest at varying rates.  Just remember, long-term fundraising within a true philanthropic culture will not be effective if the donor only hears from you when you are asking for money.

  6. Leverage Fundraising as a Shared Responsibility:
    Philanthropic support thrives when fundraising is a shared responsibility.  With the changing philanthropic landscape and heightened sophistication of donors, the most successful organizations are now expanding beyond the development staff and involving their entire community – the CEO, board members, staff, and even volunteers – in their fundraising efforts.

  7. Recognize Fundraising is a Relational Business:
    If you’re dedicated to successful fundraising, then you already “get this.” Yet, this simple term is often misunderstood.  It is a fundraising approach that puts the donor right in the center.  That’s right, the donor.  If you’ve followed tips 1-6, then you’re already well on your way.  The donor will notice your authenticity and transparency.  Focusing on the donor relationship means that you are also willing to invest in the personal touch. Start your day by writing handwritten notes, thank your donor more than once, and by all means, don’t under-estimate the power of a personal face-to-face meeting.  A donor-centered approach will pay dividends.

  8. Collaborate with Others:
    Collective impact is a buzz word these days, and for good reason.  Donors want to see more shared vision and we need to perpetuate generosity for our community’s benefit, so collaborating just makes sense.  No singular organization “owns” a donor anyways so be willing to work together and exchange ideas.

  9. Remain Flexible and Adaptable:
    If you truly have your donor’s best interest at heart, then be patient, flexible and adaptable when they respond with a “no” to an ask.  Timing is very important.  Use your discernment.  Perhaps they need more time to understand your mission, or maybe they have other pressing needs to address.  How you respond to a “no” can speak volumes to your donor.  Until they tell you “No, not ever,” continue your efforts with them.  They will appreciate your long-lens view, and the donor relationship will be preserved.

  10. Be Your Best Professional Self:
    Ethics and professional knowledge matter and donors value the consummate professional who is committed to doing the right thing.  It builds trust.  In order to serve our donors well, we need to invest in our own professional development.  Commit to taking continuing education courses, obtaining professional certificates, or attending conferences and seminars.  Read professional fundraising books, follow fundraising blogs, and join AFP! We look forward to seeing you!

Jennifer Vigne, CFRE is the president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Southwest Florida Chapter and the executive director of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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