For fundraising success, focus

It’s old hat wisdom in development circles that variety is the spice that gives life to fundraising. Annual giving programs, corporate and foundation support, special events, capital campaigns, planned giving, etc. etc. etc. The more approaches, the better – or so we’ve been told.

But now comes a report from the Bridgespan Group that sets the conventional wisdom on its ear. Based on the experience of a new class of large US nonprofits, it seems that if you want your nonprofit to grow big (or at least bigger), it’s best to concentrate your fundraising efforts in a single direction.

As reported in the latest Stanford Social Innovation Review, “the really big organizations raised the bulk of their money from a single type of funding . . . In fact, more than 90 percent of the $50 million-plus group relied on a dominant funding source to drive growth.”

The article continues:

The insight here is that small-and mid-sized nonprofits seeking to grow can benefit from identifying a primary funding source early in their life cycle, which can be aligned with their program model. This will lead to investment in a funding strategy . . . that can better attract the resources needed to fuel programmatic growth. It is a strategy that also avoids spreading resources thinly across a variety of funding opportunities.

This is great news for beleaguered fundraisers out there in one- or two-person shops.  You know, those lonely souls who’ve been running themselves ragged trying to do it all, while feeling like they’re doing nothing well.

If that’s you, take heart. Stop beating yourself up for missing a few of the bases. Forget variety. Specialize.

Never mind that the organization down the street is pulling in the dough via a hot new technique. It doesn’t necessarily follow that yours is ready, able, or wise to attempt to do likewise. The decision to add another “arrow” to your fundraising quiver must be carefully examined. Frequently there are good reasons for preserving the status quo, despite the siren song of potential big bucks. (Think the Bridgespan study.)

I can’t guarantee that doubling down on what’s already working well for you will springboard your fundraising program into the giving stratosphere. But pursuing single-engine growth will put you in some pretty impressive company. And it may just prolong your life as a fundraiser.

What's your take on this topic?

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