When you’re the Lone Ranger in your nonprofit trying to raise money using a hundred fundraising strategies, it’s tough.
You have too many things to do and some days, you just don’t know where to start. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and fall into the Trap of Trying.
You try this. Then you try that.
There’s really no strategy behind what you’re doing. You’re just trying to bring in some money however you can.
How do I know? I’ve been there.
I remember my early days of fundraising when I didn’t know what I was doing. I would try just about anything to bring in some money, all with the hope that it would pan out well. I did events aplenty – golf tournaments, 5Ks, Poker Runs, Galas, you name it. I wrote grants. I spoke to all sorts of groups. I tried just about everything I could think of. And that was before people were raising money online (yeah, I’ve been doing this a long time!).
Some things worked out better than others, and I learned that events were a whole lot of work without a lot of return on investment.
Now, I’m not totally against events. I think they have their place. I think you should do ONE event and do it really well, then spend your time on other things.
What I’m REALLY against is blindly spending time on fundraising that doesn’t generate enough bang for the buck. In other words, I don’t like activities that don’t generate enough money to make it worth the time you spend on them.
Good fundraising should bring you at least four times what you invest, and maybe as much as 10 times. (Yes, it can be done. I’ve done it and I have clients that do it).
How do you do that? It’s all about strategy, honey.
You need a better strategy
Strategic fundraising involves choosing activities because they move you forward toward your goals.
We’re talking about fundraising strategies that play to your strengths. They make sense for your nonprofit.
I see WAY too many nonprofits raising money with no strategy, and it’s frustrating because they never seem to bring in enough revenue. Things are always tight and they’re always looking for a new idea. It’s not a fun place to be.
So, here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be that way.
If this is your reality, you can change it.
Here are three fundraising strategies that won’t help you secure your nonprofit’s future. (Hopefully you aren’t using any of these, but if you are, stay tuned and I’ll tell you how to change it.)
1. Sole-source funding.
This makes no sense to me, yet there are thousands of nonprofits using this strategy. When you practice sole-source funding, you rely on one revenue stream to fund the bulk of your operation. You may be relying on like one grant or one big donor to fund everything. You figure your funding is handled, so you don’t worry about raising money from other places. You coast along happily until the day that one revenue stream shrinks or goes away, then you’re up a creek without a paddle. It’s a dangerous situation and most funders frown on it because if you lose that one big grant or donor, you risk shutting the doors.
I would think people would know better than to do this, but they don’t. I’ve had nonprofits large and small come to me because their sole-source grant is decreasing and they don’t know what to do. Never mind that they’ve had that same grant for 20 years and haven’t worried about building up another stream of income!
Many of my animal rescue groups rely on adoption fees to cover their operating expenses. Seems like a self-sustaining way to operate, but many grant makers have told me they don’t like seeing this. Funders want to know you’ve got lots of supporters to help you. It makes your operation more stable, and really, no one wants to give money to an organization that doesn’t have a solid future.
2. Spray and Pray.
Lots of nonprofit leaders think that if they can just get in front of enough people, everyone will see how awesome their mission is and money will come pouring in. They try to get on television and spend money on Facebook ads. They spray their message everywhere and pray someone responds.
If you’ve tried this, you know that you might get a few donations, but it’s not usually enough and doesn’t go very far.
There’s a segment of the public that has been asking for years for nonprofits to run their organizations like businesses, and this is one instance where the payoff would be huge. Any smart business owner would never engage in spray and pray: instead, they’d have a specific target audience in mind and find specific marketing strategies to reach that audience. Success comes with laser focus, not from broadly trying to reach as many people as possible.
The best way to build a big donor base is to start with an Ideal Donor Profile of people who love your mission and want to see you succeed. It’s a much more reliable method than trying to reach everyone and convince them to give (which doesn’t work).
And the ‘pray’ part? Well, I like being optimistic and asking for divine support, but let’s face it: hope is not a strategy.
3. Nickel-and-dime fundraising.
When people don’t have a clear strategy for fundraising or when they haven’t studied best practices, they tend to do whatever they’ve seen someone else do. What we’ve all seen other people do is events: bake sales, car washes, charity restaurant nights, T-shirt sales, and on goes the list.
These things have their place and when they fit into an overall plan or staffed by volunteers, can be helpful. Unfortunately, too many nonprofits rely on these for their main source of income.
I call this nickel-and-dime fundraising because it doesn’t bring in enough to justify the time/energy/money spent on making it happen.
One sure-fire way to tell that you’ve just done nickel-and-dime fundraising is the feeling you get after it’s over. I call it the Heart-Sink. You’re really glad it’s done and you realize you just worked really hard for not a lot of return. It makes you sigh. Heavily. And your heart sinks at the thought of having to do it again.
So, what do you do instead, to make sure you have the right fundraising strategies for your nonprofit? The ones that will bring you the kind of money it takes to fully fund your budget?
Choose the right fundraising strategies.
When you’re choosing fundraising strategies, you want ones that
- Help you reach your revenue goals
- Play to your organization’s strengths
- Play to your personal strengths
- Don’t drain your staff or volunteer resources
When you choose the right strategy, fundraising gets easier. You’re not wasting time and energy on unproductive activities.
Choosing fundraising strategies is part art and part science. It’s about considering your goals and the resources you have to work with to determine what will give you the greatest return on the investment and the greatest long-term impact.
For example, you need to cultivate your donors and ask them for money. The best way to do that is based on YOUR nonprofit – not what the group down the road is doing. Decide what you can pull off given the time, energy, and money you have to spend, and get it on the calendar.
Give yourself the gift of time to think through and carefully choose the strategies you’ll use to raise money for your nonprofit. You’ll be more successful and you’ll find out how to put the fun in fundraising.