Punching up your fundraising program

The description of a small but feisty nonprofit as “punching above its weight,” caught my attention. Not that I’m a fan of boxing metaphors (or boxing, for that matter). It was the clarity of the message that got me. This is an organization that’s performing beyond expectations, the phrase suggests. This is an organization that’s using the space well.

Quite frankly, there aren’t a lot of organizations to which the metaphor applies, and especially when the fundraising program is the focus. Many small to mid-size nonprofits are swinging for their lives, but not connecting. Or at least not often enough to capture the prize of a balanced budget. 

A lot of nonprofits, including those with a faith base, are on the ropes these days. One more to the organizational gut and they’ll be down for the count.

So how do you know if your fundraising program can go the distance? The following are clues that it may be punching below weight.  

  • You are spending less than 17 cents per dollar raised.  No one wants to be accused of wastefulness. Yet the one-size overhead ratios touted by watchdog organizations don’t fit all nonprofits. It takes money to raise money. Nonprofit leaders should not be reluctant to spend what they need to spend to underwrite mission success.
  • A one-person development shop is expected to do it all  – annual fund, major gifts, special events, foundation relations, etc. etc. etc. Even if you’ve managed to recruit a fundraising super star, there’s only so much that one individual can do on his or her own. The money mentioned in the previous point? Within successful fundraising programs, most of it goes to staff salaries.    
  • Turn-around time on thank you letters is more than two business days. When the delay extends to weeks, as happened with an organization to which I gave this past spring, it’s lights out on chances of a repeat gift from first-time donors.   
  • The CEO is reluctant to make donor calls. There’s nothing optional about fundraising for today’s CEOs. In fact, I counsel newcomers to nonprofit leadership to plan on devoting up to 50 percent of their time to advancement work.
  • Less than 100 percent of board members are annual donors and even fewer make their networks available to the organization for fundraising purposes. It has been said (including by me) that as the board performs, so goes the fundraising program. Unless board members throw their hats into the fundraising ring, there’s not much chance of a victory.

Never mind if you scored an (im)perfect 5 out of 5 on the above list. Pick yourself up. Lace up your gloves. Get back in the ring. With courage, persistence, and a good game plan, you can turn the fight around.

What's your take on this topic?

%d bloggers like this: