Freedom: the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.Here in the US, we’re celebrating Independence Day. It’s a holiday that means summertime fun to many: watermelon, cookouts, and fireworks.

It also means freedom – freedom to live how we want to live.

Here are some other definitions of freedom (www.merriam-webster.com):

  • Being released from something onerous
  • The quality of being frank, open, or outspoken
  • Boldness of conception or execution
  • Unrestricted use

You know, several of those make me think of fundraising.

When we raise money to change lives, we are helping to release folks from something onerous.

Lots of nonprofits draw a line in the sand about a particular issue and speak frankly about it. Think of all the nonprofits that take a stand for the environment, human rights, and animal welfare.

Some nonprofits have big bold plans that they work toward and they are relentless in pursuing them.

The work we do in the nonprofit world matters. We make a difference. I know it’s easy to forget that when you’re up to your elbows in details and administration. But it’s important to stop and reflect on it.

I see way too many good organizations struggling to raise the money they need. Often, they have a mission that matters, but they’re stuck being disorganized, unfocused, and scattered.

Maybe it’s time we declare our freedom from things that hold us back. Maybe we should rebel against work habits that no longer serve us. Maybe we should all STOP doing what no longer works and START doing things that bring us a huge return on our investment of time, energy, and money.

Let’s declare war on mediocrity in fundraising! Let’s mutiny against common, boring practices of ho-hum fundraising so we can create an environment of philanthropy that’s fun for us to work in, fun for donors to participate in, and changes more lives than ever before.

Ready to break free? Here are 10 truths to embrace if you want to join the revolution:

1. Self-centeredness must be replaced by donor-centeredness. Your messaging cannot be all about you – your programs, your budget, you, you, you. Who cares? When it’s all about you and your need to raise your annual fund, you actually repel donors. Make the shift to become donor-centered. When you become donor-centered and you care FIRST about the donor, THEN about their money, everything will change.

2. The relationship is worth more than the money. Once you begin to care about the donor as a person and not record number 1453, you’ll become interested in what matters to them. You’ll stop staring at their checkbook. You’ll actually want to know what they care about and why they support your nonprofit. People will feel it. The language you use in your newsletter and thank-you letters will change, and donors will start to feel more valued and appreciated. And guess what happens when donors feel valued and appreciated?

3. Program goals must be set before fundraising can begin. Don’t try to do fundraising backwards: don’t try to go out and raise as much as you can, then figure out how to spend it. Start by deciding how your programs will change lives, then figure out what that will cost. THAT’S how much money you should raise. If it’s just not possible to raise that amount, adjust your program goals. It’s a whole lot easier to raise money when you can tell people specifically how the money will be used instead of “support our cause.” Donors like to know how they’re helping you make a difference and you can share that when you start with a program goal.

4. Status quo in fundraising restricts growth. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got. Every strategy you use – every event, every appeal, every communication – must be monitored for its effectiveness. You must stay in a state of curiosity about your activities. Discover why your under performing activities are happening and find a way to tweak them to improve them. Find out why your successes are happening so you can repeat them purposefully. Constant learning will keep you not only looking internally, but also looking for best practices in the industry to bring back and apply to your nonprofit.


5. Working without a plan will never fully fund your mission. When you have no written plan for fundraising, you’ll spend your days fighting fires and playing “Whack-A-Mole” with your inbox. You’ll spend a ton of time being very busy, but you’ll never reach your fundraising goals. Without a plan, you’ll always be reacting to what others want you to do and chances are good you’ll always be working at the last minute to get things done.

6. Sole-source funding is not a secure way to fund your budget.  Relying on one source of revenue for your nonprofit is a dangerous situation. If that one grant or event diminishes or goes away, you’ll be dead in the water and forced to cut programs. Create diversified revenue streams that come from multiple sources. That way if you lose one grant or decide to cut an event, you can easily make it up from another source.

7. Power must be balanced between the Board and Executive Director to provide optimal leadership to the nonprofit. A healthy nonprofit has a Board made up of skilled, connected, caring people who are willing to bring their skills and connections to the table. A healthy nonprofit also has a passionate, skilled Executive Director who can effectively administer the work of the organization. When these two work together as partners, anything is possible. When a nonprofit has a strong Board and weak ED, there are problems like micromanaging. When a nonprofit as a weak Board and strong ED, the ED does all the heavy lifting of leadership and feels like the Lone Ranger.  When power swings one way or the other, there’s a lack of trust and usually some kind of drama. It’s best when there’s a balance of power along with mutual respect and healthy communication. It takes work to make it happen, but it IS possible and it’s a beautiful thing once it’s in place.

8. It takes a team to reach big goals with fully funded budgets.  When you’re passionate about the cause and you’ve poured your heart into its success, it can be really tough to turn pieces of the organization over to others. But if you have a BIG vision, you can’t do it alone. You will need a team of people around you to help. Start by creating systems so that no matter who does a job, they’ll get the same result. Whether you’re welcoming new donors or signing up sponsors for your next event, you need a documented, step-by-step process. When you have in writing how a task should be done, it’s easy to find the right staff person or volunteer, and train them. If you don’t systematize, you’ll try to control everything yourself and you’ll wind up burning out.

9. Growth depends on systems. If you plan to grow your nonprofit so you can change more lives, you’ll likely need more hands to help and more money to pay for it. The only way to leverage is with systems. A system is simply a way of doing something so that you get the same result every time. Think of how chaotic Starbucks would be if they didn’t have a system for creating a Mocha Latte. They would never have experienced the explosive growth they have if it weren’t for their systems. Same thing goes for you – you want to grow? You need systems. Yes, it takes time to figure them out and get them in writing, but once you do, you’ll not only free up some of your time, you’ll set your organization up for bigger success.

10. When donors feel good about giving, they’ll usually do it again. Your number one priority in fundraising should be to give donors a GREAT experience with you. Thank them early and often. Stay in touch with them to let them know the impact their gift has had. Help them feel really good about their decision to give, and chances are good they’ll do it again. If you want to create sustainable funding for your nonprofit, this is the key. It’s all about thanking them well, having a regular story-rich newsletter, and adding in additional delights periodically to add a little “wow” to their experience.

So there you have it, my rebel friends. Follow these 10 declarations and you’ll be well on your way to creating the fundraising you’ve always dreamed of.

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