This Woman is Off Her Fundraising Rocker!

• effective fundraising • fund development process • fundraising productivity • Fundraising the SMART Way
Ellen Bristol

Recently the wonderful people at invited me to do a webinar Fundraising the SMART Way: Why We Need a Fundraising Revolution, for about 300 attendees. One comment stood out above the rest: "I've been in fundraising for twenty years, but this woman is off her rocker!!!"

Yay, thank you, alert attendee! You made it all worthwhile! If I'm getting people riled up to that extent, then I must be doing something right!!!

Here's why I'm so happy about being called crazy (and it's not the first time). My new book,  Fundraising the SMART Way: Predictable Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity just went on sale a few days ago. It's all about the methodology Fundraising the SMART Way, a way to manage the business function of fundraising so you can raise significantly more philanthropic income and improve donor acquisition, retention and engagement, while lowering costs. You don't get benefits like those unless you're willing to disrupt old thinking, and break a few eggs in the process.  So if I haFundraising the SMART Way bookve to be known as "off my rocker" to show you how to break those eggs, then hooray.  You just might be crazy enough to come along for the ride.

Here's what's crazy, nuts, off my fundraising rocker about our disruptive approach to achieving predictable, consistent income growth. It's about being able to tell which funding prospects justify the investment of your development time and which ones don't, based on a documented benchmark of meaningful criteria.  If you want to continue investing hours and hours cultivating funders who are DOA - dead on arrival - and whose gifts cost you more than they're worth, then be my guest; maintain your standard methods. It's perfectly fine with me if you carry thousands of potential dollars in your opportunity pipeline from gifts that seem to hang around forever but never close - and whose donors never really show they're interested in you.  It's also fine with me if you throw expensive tactics (more special events, grant applications by the pound) at the fundraising problem when your actual results are below desired levels (read "terrible"), because the only metric you use is how-much-have-you-done-for-me-lately.

But I'd much rather be called off my rocker if you already had better control over your fundraising efforts. If you already had better control, then everybody on your team would use the same objective criteria to evaluate prospects.  You'd also have reliable methods to know if your gift-opportunity pipeline could predict the income growth you want, especially if you knew which opportunities were mature enough to forecast and which weren't, instead of relying on guesswork and that old favorite "gut feel." You'd already have accurate, timely analytical reports on where your opportunity pipeline encounters a bottleneck, among other meaningful business analytics. If you had all that stuff, it wouldn't matter much if you called me "off my rocker," since I'd be belaboring the obvious.

Unfortunately, the data tell a different story, starting with the data from GivingUSA and the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Those sources show fundraising results as flat, declining or showing only modest advances, with serious declines in donor retention.  Our own productivity study, the Leaky Bucket Assessment for Effective Fundraising, shows 76 percent of our 600 survey  participants lack documented criteria for qualifying new opportunities, criteria that include qualitative as well as quantifiable insights, and 72 percent of that same group lack targets or standards for donor retention, relying on "trying harder." Organizations that can't or don't use mutually agreed-upon selection criteria or retention targets waste money, time and effort, big time.

And when it comes to metrics, a huge proportion - 63 percent - rely only the trailing indicator of money in the door, while only 16 percent track the number of prospect visits conducted, a useful leading indicator. Even worse, about 12 percent stated that they used NO metrics.  Yikes.

So I'd be delighted to be known as off my rocker if it meant that everybody in fundraising-land were already enjoying the benefits of effective management controls, guidelines, business analytics, and benchmarks that would drive higher levels of productivity and fundraising in the development shop! Go ahead - call me crazy. I can take it.

Listen to my webinar Fundraising the SMART Way: Why We Need a Fundraising Revolution.

Buy the book Fundraising the SMART Way and visit its companion website,

Take the Leaky Bucket Assessment to see you your scores compare.















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