5 Keys to a Successful Fundraising Program (Reflections From a Broken Foot)


Last week I broke my right foot. (Read: seven weeks of crutches and the inability to drive a car.) The upside? I have plenty of time for reflection and tip sharing. And so, read on for 5 keys to a successful fundraising program!  

Key #1:  Plan Ahead

If you have experienced life with crutches, you know the challenges. Crutches are great tools to get you from point A to point B, but it’s tough to bring much along for the ride. Every day before my husband leaves for work, he sets me up for the day. He moves my laptop to my desk, situates my phone and charger, and tends to other tasks that will enable me to get work done. 

When it comes to fundraising, planning is key. In addition to having an annual fundraising plan for your organization, you are faced with many mini planning opportunities daily.

For example, don’t meet with a donor until you’ve planned out the stories you’re going to share and the questions you’re going to ask. Check out my video post on preparing for a major donor meeting. 

Likewise, don’t send out a fundraising appeal letter without carefully drafting the donor-centered copy this communication requires. Gail Perry has a terrific sample letter that shows how to do this. 

Key #2:  Ask for Help

In addition to my husband, I am blessed with many friends who are happy to stop by my house to empty the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry or run an errand. 

Your fundraising program will be more successful with more hands on deck. If you are the head of a development department, take on the aspects of fundraising that require your attention—high-level planning, high-level fundraising (major donor meetings perhaps?) and managing staff. Delegate the rest. 

If you are a one-person development shop, identify others who can help, e.g., your CEO, your Board of Directors, other volunteers or an intern from a local university program.

Finally, consider hiring a consultant for specific functions or tasks. I’ve found it works best to plug in consultants for well-defined projects such as grant writing, fundraising event planning, or drafting a fundraising plan. Often, money you spend on an outside expert will pay off in a more streamlined process and more money raised. 

Here’s a great article from Philanthropy News Digest about how to find, engage and work with a nonprofit consultant. 

Key #3:  Try A New Way

Not having two hands fully available has forced me to tackle even the simplest of tasks with creativity. For example, it’s challenging to carry things. Now, I drape clothing across my shoulders and carry silverware, apples or dog treats in my pockets.

In fundraising, don’t be afraid to try new things. If your Board of Directors is resistant to fundraising, find a new way to involve them. Often Board members are nervous about asking for money. This short video from Chris Davenport and Vanessa Chase outlines how to coach your Board members to use their stories to fundraise, in an easy and personalized way.

Key #4:  Practice Patience

Of the ideas outlined here, patience is by far the most difficult for me to master. My broken foot allows me to practice patience every day when it seems to take forever to make a cup of tea or grab a snack.

Fundraising takes time. But doing the planning and the work upfront will pay off down the road for your organization. One $7 million gift that I helped to secure was nearly three years in the making, beginning with an initial meeting with the prospect (now donor) and culminating with the pledge. 

Donors don’t work on your schedule. Just getting a meeting can take months. As a general rule, the higher the individual’s capacity, the longer it takes to get a meeting. Successful people are busy people, so be sure to build this reality into your fundraising plans and timelines.

Key #5:  Be Grateful

Boy, nothing like losing the use of a foot to prompt gratitude for the foot that still works—or the pair for that matter when I’m back to “normal.” 

In fundraising, there is so much for which to be grateful, including your generous donors, your fellow staff members and your volunteers. Working in the nonprofit sector allows you every single day to make a real difference in moving the needle on your organization’s mission. Take time to recognize how amazing this is. 

As a bonus, practicing gratitude will make you happy! This TEDTalk explores the connection between gratitude and happiness

What are your keys to fundraising success?

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