Our Biggest Fundraising Challenge? Following Up.


What is the magic in fundraising? Those times when the strongest connections are made, the right donor at the right time to the right project. But it is awfully hard to get there.

We can all recognize those moments: the backstage tour, the vibrant conversation with our CEO at a donor lunch that advances a key relationship, the gala speaker who brings tears to the eyes of everyone in the room telling the story of organizational impact.

These moments are amazing, of course, and worthy of celebration when we make a meaningful connection between the prospects and donors who support us, and the living, breathing good work of our organizations. For me, that’s the definition of fundraising.

Capturing a prospect’s attention is tremendously challenging in our distracting and competitive world. As fundraising staff, we spend considerable efforts engaging volunteers and board members to make connections on our behalf, cultivating current donors through conversation and opportunity, all while networking to the corporate community relentlessly.

So what happens when we get a hit? What is next when our CEO hosts a donor to that terrific cultivation lunch, or our board chair introduces us to a key corporate leader? What are our immediate action steps following another fabulous gala?

Too often, my friends, there is no proper Follow Up, and this is driving me to distraction. Wonderful conversations are started, events are held at great effort and expense, questions are asked, suggestions are made for future involvement, and creative proposals are advanced. And too often, as fundraising staff, we don’t take the required next action steps. We passively wait for something to happen, or we move on to the next flood of activity, the next event or prospecting trip. If nothing else, the role of fundraising staff needs to be the Head of Following Up.

Don’t complain to me about your Board or Development committee if you haven’t driven follow up activity and next steps to prospective donors they’ve brought to the cultivation dinner. If you, as a staffer, aren’t driving follow up action, it won’t happen.

Ask, after a successful donor cultivation move, have we:

  1. Promptly thanked the donor by email, or better yet, a simple snail mail note card? Want to demonstrate sincerity? Write an actual personal thank you note. My handwriting resembles that of an 8 year old with an attention problem, and I still send thank you notes all the time. On personalized stationary, with a stamp.
  2. Documented the activity, including what we learned about the donor’s interests, preferences, or response to a proposal? In this era of technology, the percentage of organizations who log visit reports and activity into the donor database appears to be going downward. It used to be very common ten years ago, that a donor visit would “count” towards activity expectations ONLY IF it was properly documented into the database. Now? Not so much. Why? It is only a guess but I believe most of our databases have grown so cumbersome that gift officers and staff solicitors don’t bother to learn the fundamentals. And so information, the most valuable resource, is lost. This is costing your programs dearly. Document your fundraising activity.
  3. Set clear expectations for a next step? This is the most damaging of all. Our enthusiastic board member introduces us to a corporate contact. We all sit at lunch to good conversation, including a review of a folder’s worth of organizational information, and perhaps even an initial sponsorship proposal. And then we say, “See ya soon” and thing happens. We blame our board member for not following up, and the opportunity is lost. Or we wait a month or more to reengage. Fundraising is a momentum game. A month is too long to wait.

What is the cost of this lack of follow up on our fundraising? In our push to make this year’s fundraising goal we only see the bottom line of the request that wasn’t funded in this particularly year. But it can and will cost us much more than that when we don’t follow up on our conversations and proposals. Donor interest is fleeting. Your good meeting that doesn’t go anywhere this year may not be possible again next year. Think of it from the donor’s perspective. They met you. The listened. They asked questions. They expressed some interest. And poof, you were gone.

Why in the world would your prospect have a second conversation? Lots of other organizations out there. Onward.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
This entry was posted in Annual Fund, Performing Arts, Philanthropy, Sponsorship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Our Biggest Fundraising Challenge? Following Up.

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