Getting Fundraising Right - and Not Backwards

• fundraising practices • fundraising • effective fundraising • fundraising metrics
Ellen Bristol
“Cut it near the end,” says Owl.

“Which end?” says Pooh, “the beginning end or the ending end?”

How many nonprofits start their fundraising efforts at the “ending end?”Beginning End or Ending End?  Starting at the “ending end” means you’re getting fundraising backwards; you’re not getting fundraising right.  Getting fundraising backwards means you focus on activities, events, tactics, and – often – trivia.  (What color napkins for the luncheon?)  Activities are important, true, but if you don’t have the “Beginning End” in place, you risk wasting time (money), solving the same problem over and over again (wasting time/money), and generally losing productivity (wasting time/money). 

So what’s the “Beginning End” anyway?  It’s all the strategic components of fund development that come before you write your next direct-mail piece, obtain your next auction item, set up your next nifty-cool new social-media site, or ask your board members to accept a give-or-get policy.  The “Beginning End” stuff includes such unglamorous but effective decisions as:

  • Knowing which funders justify the investment of your fundraising time and effort. 
  • Establishing targeted numbers of new and retained funding sources as well as targets for amounts of new/repeat donations. 
  • Using a range of sophisticated metrics to manage fundraising performance.  Reviewing performance against plan on a weekly or monthly basis. 
  • Constantly tweaking and refining the process “upstream,” so you get better results – larger average gifts, shorter acquisition cycles, larger percentage of retained donors – downstream.

If you don’t have such guidelines, benchmarks and metrics in place, it’s the natural tendency to concentrate on the “ending end,” the fun stuff – holding the events, getting the raffle prizes and auction items together, choosing the graphic design for the Annual Appeal letter.   As much fun as it may be to focus on activities like that and ignore the strategic stuff, it’s a recipe for losing time and money (and gaining anxiety and staff layoffs).  The data on this is fairly compelling, as revealed by our ongoing study, the Leaky Bucket Assessment for Effective Fundraising.

So here’s what we plan to do for the next few weeks.  We’re going to run a series of blog posts that talk about each of the core components of an effective fundraising process, with anecdotes and descriptions based on real-life observations and stories.  We’ll include up-to-the-minute data from the Leaky Bucket Study to bolster our observations. 

And we need your comments, observations, war stories and insights. 

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