Oddly enough, this started with a conversation with my chiropractor.
She was telling me that she’d been trying to volunteer with the local pregnancy support group. And she was frustrated.
She told me a story that’s way too common. Maybe you’ve experienced this too. I sure have.
She reached out to them to volunteer. They asked for a bunch of information, which she gave. Then she didn’t hear a thing for weeks.
She called them again to see what was happening, because she really wanted to help. And again, nothing, no response.
After many weeks, she emailed one last time and got a lame “yeah, we’ve been busy” kind of email and nothing else. So she gave up.
She’s a bright, caring woman and has a LOT to offer. She might have been their best volunteer EVER. But they’ll never find out. Because they wasted the opportunity.
This happens every day in nonprofits all over the world and it has GOT TO STOP.
If we are serious about fulfilling our mission to end hunger or homelessness, eliminate euthanasia, get rid of waiting lists for our programs, or whatever it is we’re dreaming of, we cannot afford to waste a single opportunity to add resources to our operations.
Here’s the truth: You need resources to operate. You can’t run your nonprofit from your own pocket. So, everyone who wants to give you money or their time is a precious resource of an unknown value. You have no idea how much the next person who walks through your door might bring to you.
So, until you know otherwise, treat everyone as if they are capable of making a game-changing gift to your nonprofit.
It’ll help you stop wasting opportunities.
Here are a dozen ways that I see nonprofits waste opportunities for fundraising and resource development.
- When people want to volunteer and you don’t accommodate them. Who is trying to contact you to give their time and instead they’re growing frustrated because they’re running into dead ends? This happened to me several years ago. We had just adopted 2 cats from the local shelter and I offered to help them write grants. They took my card and said someone would get back in touch. Then I never heard anything back. I offered twice more before I gave up in frustration. Here’s the real problem: these folks are likely to tell several of their friends about their experience, which is NOT the kind of publicity you want. So, get your act together and be ready with a process to interview and onboard volunteers. If you can’t use volunteers right now, that’s fine – just tell people so they have the right expectation.
- When people sponsor your event and you don’t invite them back the next year. This is insane to me, yet I see it happen over and over. If a business, a group, or an individual is willing to give you money for a sponsorship, they are telling you with their money that they care about your work. Take it seriously. Thank them well. Connect with them a couple of times over the next several months. Then ask them to sponsor again the next year. If you don’t, you’re just leaving money on the table.
- When you don’t ask friends and family to donate to your cause. Again, huge mistake. Friends and family are the ones who MOST want to see you succeed and they’re happy to help you if they can. I had someone try to tell me recently that they don’t want to ask friends for donations because they don’t want fundraising to be ego-driven or be all about them. Sorry, it doesn’t have to be about your ego – it’s about your nonprofit’s mission. Move yourself out of the way, and ask friends and family to support your work. (Notice I said “your work” and not “you.”)
- When you don’t utilize the gifts and talents of your Board members. You have people sitting on your Board right now who have additional skills they could be bringing to the table. Chances are good they won’t take the initiative to ask you what else they could be doing, so schedule lunch with them individually and ask them how else they’d like to get involved. The key here is that it’s your responsibility to help them get more involved – not theirs. Don’t wait on them.
- When you don’t ask people who have used your services to donate. People who have received some service from your nonprofit have the best understanding of the need and the value you’re bringing to the community. Ask them to help. You might need to wait for the appropriate time, but don’t wait forever. When I worked at the Food Bank, we saw this all the time. People who were getting food baskets would normally come back around to donate later. It might be several months or years, but they almost always would. For animal rescue groups, you need to be asking adopters to donate. Adoption day is a highly-charged emotional event, and chances are good that if you ask them to give, they will.
- When you only ask donors to give once a year. Big mistake. People who believe in your mission WANT to see you succeed. If you’re only asking once a year because you’re afraid you’ll offend them or wear out your welcome, you’re missing the boat. Instead of looking at your donors as sources of money, see them as partners in your work. Wouldn’t a partner want to help out regularly? Make that shift in your mindset and start asking more often.
- When you spend your time doing something that someone else could do. Every one of us has unique gifts and strengths that we bring to our nonprofit. Ideally, we should spend most of our day working in those strengths. When you spend your time emptying the trash or doing clerical work, it doesn’t serve anyone. I had a client several years ago who was the Executive Director of a multi-million dollar nonprofit. Their janitor had retired, and this ED decided that to save a little money, he’d clean the bathrooms himself. Talk about a waste of resources! This guy was probably making $50 an hour or more, and he was doing minimum wage work. Outsource or delegate all those things you shouldn’t be doing. If you’re the only person in your organization, then get yourself some volunteers and interns. You don’t have to be the Lone Ranger and you need to spend your time doing what you’re good at.
- When you purchase training materials then never use them. This happens to all of us. We buy a book or a webinar, then never carve out the time to absorb it. Or we spend the money to go to a conference, where we get tons of great ideas. Then we come back and get right back in the groove, and all those great ideas stay in a notebook on the shelf. Total wasted resource. I know it isn’t easy to start doing new things, but try this: Prioritize the ideas you got from your last workshop or conference, then carve out an hour next week to start on the first one. I bet that once you get started, you’ll want to keep working on it. Then when you’re done with that one, start on the second one.
- When you spend time doing the wrong things. This is another common one, because we tend to do things that we’ve always done. We work from habit rather than intent. If you’re like most folks working in nonprofit, you’re doing event after event, and you never stop to think about why you’re doing them or whether you SHOULD be doing them. How about doing one really good signature event and then spend the rest of your time focused on individual donors? The return on your investment will be much higher. Look at everything you’re doing with a critical eye and make sure it’s worth doing.
- When you get turned down for a grant and you don’t follow up to ask questions. With grant writing, there’s a pretty good learning curve in the beginning. And one of the best things you can do is to learn from your mistakes. So, when you get that rejection email or letter, call the foundation (if you can) and ask them what you might have done to strengthen your proposal. Now, foundations are all different, and some are friendlier than others. You may not be able to contact them all, but contact the ones you can. You’ll eventually get one who will take the time to talk with you and give you good feedback. I once got a $40,000 refrigerated truck because I took the time to call a foundation and ask what I could do to strengthen my proposal after getting a rejection letter. The lady gave me good feedback (my budget section was weak), then she called me about 6 weeks later and said they had another grant opp ortunity and wondered if I’d be interested. I submitted a new proposal and got the grant. It was definitely worth the initial follow-up call!
- When you go speak to a group and you don’t ask them to take the next step to get involved. If you’re going to do public speaking to raise awareness and gather support, make sure you have a great, engaging presentation, then have a clear call to action at the end. Ask people to help you. Get their contact information. Give them a sheet with various things they can do to get involved, like volunteering, touring your facility, inviting you to speak somewhere else, or making a financial gift. The easier you make it for them to see and take the next step, the more people will do it.
- When you don’t thank donors at all or do a terrible job of it. This may be the biggest sin of all. When people give you money, your job is to thank them and help them feel good about their decision to give. When you don’t thank a donor, what message does that send? “We’re only after your money” right? No one will give again. If you’re thanking donors, but use the same dry, stale thank you letter you’ve been using for the past 10 years, what message does THAT send? It’s time to uplevel your thanking, and knock your donors’ socks off. Send a warm, sincere, prompt letter that builds trust and watch what happens.
One of the best things you can do when it comes to building relationships with your donors is to work to become their favorite. They are probably giving to a couple of other organizations, and all you have to do is shine brighter than they do.
If you’ll stop wasting your fundraising opportunities, and focus on giving your donor a great experience, you’ll see your donors become more loyal and their giving go up. Then you can change more lives, because that’s what this is really all about.