Guest Blogger Mike Berkowitz is co-founder & CEO of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, an impact-oriented strategy firm that partners with the world’s most passionate and daring changemakers to reimagine, expand, and realize their social impact. He recently presented a program on Building a Sustainable Fundraising Program at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.
I get it. If you’ve started a nonprofit organization or are launching a new development campaign, it seems natural to hire a consultant who can bring you relationships, or a grantwriter who can crank out beautifully-written grant proposals.
But if you’re hoping for long-term success – if you’re hoping that your organization will still be around and thriving in 10 years – it’s time to look past your short-term interests and focus on building a sustainable in-house fundraising program. Here are a few ideas on where to start:
1. Hire the right staff. It seems so natural to hire a consultant to bring you relationships, but it rarely works out that easily. Furthermore, don’t you want to cultivate those relationships in-house? Start your development team off right by hiring a development associate or director (or even an intern if you’re really cash-strapped). Look for someone who can write well, pays attention to detail, and is personable and confident. If they need coaching, consider hiring a development strategy consultant to work with them on becoming an effective fundraiser. Remember, though: no matter how you structure your development operation, the Executive Director will always need to be involved in fundraising.
2. Think holistically about your funding opportunities. Don’t just assume that foundations are your best bet for fundraising. Yes, there is a copious amount of information on what foundations fund and how much money they give away, making it much easier to identify foundation prospects; but remember that more than 75% of charitable giving in the U.S. comes from individuals. Think clearly and holistically about your funding opportunities: does your work lend itself to creating an earned revenue stream? Would your programs appeal to major individual donors? Understanding your funding model is as important as understanding your program model.
3. Create a development plan. Planning is guessing, but it forces you to think through your development strategy. Start with your budget goal: how much do you need (and what for)? Then come up with a plan to get there. How many gifts do you need at different levels to reach your goal? How much of your budget can you expect to come from renewals or lapsed donors, and how much do you need from new donors? How much will you aim to raise through your major gifts campaign, online fundraising, direct mail, events, etc.? Your development plan will make clear what your workload looks like and will also provide you clues about how realistic your goals are.
4. Use a donor management system. Excel lists. Outlook contacts. Scraps of paper. Our own minds. These are the places that most organizations store information about their prospects and donors. Get all of this data into a donor management system (i.e. donor database), come up with uniform rules for using it, and make sure that everyone on your development team (and anyone else in your organization who has access to it) consistently uses the database. Attention to detail is key: you don’t want someone’s name misspelled, or their gift size entered incorrectly. Having a fully functioning database will make it immensely easier for you to track your cultivation, solicitation, recognition, and stewardship “moves” and to store information that can be used by your development team a decade from now. Choose a donor management database over a standard CRM, as CRMs are not necessarily customized for fundraising purposes (for instance, check to see whether they enable you to enter donations or pledges into a dedicated field). There are plenty of low-cost options available.
Remember, while these ideas may not translate into more money for your organization tomorrow, they will set you up for sustainable fundraising success in the future.