When should you take risks with fundraising? When you’re ready. Here’s what I mean:
You Can’t Riff Without a Guitar. News flash: You’ve got to do the basics before you improvise.
What’s on your playlist for 2014? The rewarding gold standards like prospecting, asking and stewarding? Or riskier new events? Special campaigns? Extra social media? You’re to be congratulated if you’ve got innovative ideas. It shows you haven’t lost your creative spark, and you’ve got gusto and passion for what you do. Bravo! But… wait… hold on a minute…
Before you get lost in the creative process, consider carefully: Do you have what it takes to assure you’re truly able to make beautiful music with all these new strategies? Don’t ask whether you have the budget or the staff or the volunteers. No. Ask whether you have essential fundraising pre-conditions in place. A riff is a variation on a theme. How’s your theme doing?
Sadly, too many nonprofits lose sight of the basics upon which all successful fundraising is premised. I talk about this in my 7 Clairification Keys to Unlock Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Potential. They break down into: Values; Stories; Brand; Social Channels; Support Constituencies; Engagement Objectives and Resources/Systems. Time and again, nonprofit leaders come to me asking for help with a new campaign or social media strategy. Yet they lack clarity and consensus around all these fundamentals.
You Can’t Build a House without a Foundation. News flash: You’re not ready to raise the roof unless you’ve got the pre-conditions nailed down.
Your house may stay upright for a little while, but ultimately it will come crashing down. We could talk about each of these foundational basics in greater detail (and I’ll do so on my blog this coming year), but for now I want to give you something truly practical for your 2014 plan. Something you can use to focus your efforts and succeed in the year ahead.
Here are the 3 most important things you need to succeed with sustainable fundraising in 2014:
Creating and disseminating relevant content through a blog is the single most important thing you can do to attract potential new supporters online. Without consistently delivered significant content, people won’t find you. Even if they do, no one’s really going to visit your website more than once or twice. I could just tell you to do “content marketing,” but that’s a big bite and I want this to be practical. I really want you to do this! If you don’t have a blog, get one. It will become the hub of your entire content marketing strategy. I’ll be writing about this a lot this year, and soon will have a handy dandy guide to get you started. Watch for it!
The number one reason people don’t give is simple: they aren’t asked. There’s no way around this. You’ve got to stop cultivating at some point and make the ask. Cultivation is a means to an end; not the end in and of itself. It may be scary, but you can’t put it off forever. What you need to do is reframe it so it’s not scary.
This is something most nonprofits don’t spend enough time doing. And it’s why, on average, nonprofits are losing about 70% of their first-time donors. Every 100 donors gained in 2012 was offset by 105 in lost donors through attrition — a net gain of negative -5 (for organizations raising less than $100,000/year it was negative -13.5%)!. Nonprofits are losing donors in droves and it’s a serious problem. Merely focusing on acquisition, and not paying attention to retention, is a smoke and mirrors game. You may pat yourself on the back for securing new donors, but you’re getting absolutely nowhere in the long run.
You’re in this for the long run, right? You want fundraising to be sustainable, right? Then blog, ask, thank. That’s your guitar. That’s your foundation. You’ll find new supporters, secure more gifts and keep donors giving year after year.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not telling you to avoid risks.
In fact, I’ll be exhorting you to develop your entrepreneurial spirit in an upcoming post. We live in an astoundingly fast-paced world, where things are changing every day. The digital revolution irrevocably disrupted “business as usual” and those who fail to adapt will die. As Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, noted: “Ironically, in a changing world, playing it safe is one of the riskiest things you can do.”
So, once you’ve got the guitar and are strumming along nicely you don’t have to stick to the classics or always play it safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a definite risk in standing still. But there’s a world of difference between nailing the basics and standing still.
Sometimes moving forward is just going back to the basics. Because a lot of where nonprofits sit on their hands is when it comes to stuff they’re afraid to do. Like asking. So you spend your their time dreaming up new cultivation activities so you don’t have to ask. Events, events and more events. House parties. Tours. Coffees. On and on and on. And these are all good things, but… not in lieu of the basics.
Begin with the guitar. Begin with the foundation.
What would be your top 3 fundraising strategies for 2014? Let’s get a list going!
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