“This is Looking Great!” I replied to a client recently, “Based on this current progress, we will secure $250,000 for the annual fund between now and 12/31. That’s five working weeks, so $50,000 a week, and $10,000 a day. We got this!”
One thing I admire most about fundraisers is their grim determination for the task at hand. What I proposed above wasn’t soliciting a key gift of $150,000 to save the fiscal quarter, but, instead, that we rally our efforts to early renewals and upgrades of $1,000, $5,000 and so on, grinding it out day by day. That the staff was resolute to accomplish this massive task is inspiring to me, more than the sunny optimists who “hope for the best” in difficult circumstances.
I am a fan of fundraising twitter peeps and get new perspective from time to time, most recently this excellent, data based segmentation methodology to evaluate donor relations staff, but I often wonder if these fundraising experts have ever actually raised a nickel. I cannot locate it now but recently saw a tweet from a Fundraising Guru, that said, more or less:
“In 25 years I’ve never has to ask for money.
I’ve only shared values with committed supporters”
“Oh this is terrific my friend. You must fundraise in Canada!” was my first response to this. How precious and proper for you. Because I’ve asked for money. A lot. Under difficult circumstances, unreasonable timelines, toward heroic goals. Anyone who is a professional fundraising has had to this. Anyone saying otherwise while claiming years of experience as a fundraiser is a mystery. Or possibly, Canadian.
Fundraisers have to do the job even when the situation is not “donor centric”, best defined, as far as I can tell, as putting the donor’s needs, expectations, and preferences on timing and communication ahead of any organizational concern. That’s a noble approach to raising cash. It is. Of course the donor’s preferences should come first and stewardship is paramount. But we must also ask for money. There is no shame in this.
But what do you do when staying on budget requires $10,000 per day, $50,000 per week, and $250,000 before December 31? What do you do if there is a pending financial peril, where staffing and services might have to be reduced, if the fundraising plan isn’t successful?
Of course you push. You push hard and you ask for money. Everywhere you can. Whatever the plan was, and however it didn’t quite work, there is going to be real consequence when goals aren’t met. As a fundraiser this is what keeps me up at night, knowing jobs and programs are on the line.
What does fundraising reality look like? As with most fundraising business, this starts with your leadership. Your board and volunteers should understand the situation and they should be invited to assist, in earnest. Don’t sugarcoat it. Conversations will need to be advanced, talking points shared, and expectations revised for activity. It is not unreasonable (at least to me) to ask board members to advance pledge payments or consider additional support, if carefully presented.
If the fiscal health of an organization isn’t a board member’s main priority, why are they on the Board?
Trust in your Donors that they will understand the circumstance and be willing to assist. Too often, we treat donors like fragile cargo, afraid to share bad news or to ask for an accommodation, when being direct and honest with them is always the best policy. Not all news can be good news. Be honest and direct with your supporters. People like to back a winner, sure, but they also understand challenge and opportunity.
An already committed board member calling on your key prospect, explaining in clear language that, “We are reaching out now to our key supporters with an opportunity to complete our vital fall fundraising. Can you join me in making a gift earlier this year to position our organization’s programming in the spring?” At worst, you might hear a “No”.
Tell me, is the donor being served by not asking at an ideal time/place/method when their support might have otherwise saved a program?
Create leverage and inspiration through leadership. What I most want to see in a fundraising crunch time is inspired effort, connecting great ideas and impactful opportunities with generous donors. With philanthropy barely keeping pace with GDP in the United States, we need more asking, not less. I hear all the time that the donor doesn’t care about your timeline and urgency. I am not sure that this is true. Sometimes we have to get out there and make our case. And then let’s thank the heck out of them, #donorlove style.
Great fundraisers use crisis as opportunity and inspire through their efforts and activity. Be that fundraiser.
Your donors will respond, with or without that #.