Dream, Plan & Deliver — Three Steps to Successful Fundraising

Are you the one that everyone looks to as the star fundraiser in your organization? Do you provide the leadership and create the excitement for which your advancement or development office is searching? If so, great! Keep up the good work and send us some of your success stories so that we can include them in the Fundraising Free Press as an inspiration for our readers in the weeks and months ahead.

Throughout my thirty years in the fundraising business, the most important question I keep asking myself is “what techniques make the most successful fundraisers seem so much better than the rest”? “What actions or methods separate the very best and most successful from the folks that seem to struggle”? My conclusion is neither simple nor complex – but it is straightforward.

From what I have seen, success follows those people who; dream big, plan carefully, and execute the plan relentlessly and persistently. Small amounts of dreaming and planning, combined with enormous amounts of hard work and application, lead to ultimate success!

Far too many highly capable people spend the bulk of their time dreaming, or looking for that grand idea. Still others, who are quite capable, have their dream in mind and get caught up in the planning, re-planning, over-planning and re-analysis. Begin with a simple dream to give you the vision of the endgame, develop a systematic and logistical plan to take you there and then begin your journey. And, when you begin your journey, be prepared to press forward when things get very difficult (they will). Persistence and determination are worth far more than preparation (which too, is essential).

The surest way to success is to outwork everyone else. Get started earlier each morning and plan to work later every evening. The most highly successful person works as hard as (and frequently harder than) everyone else. They also work smart. These people begin with an ambitious goal, reduce it to a working plan (manageable steps toward that goal), and then work that plan with abandon.

Herein lies the essence: work, do something, execute, act, toil, commit, take, push, build, grow, hustle, strive, labor, create. For only through hard work do we accomplish great things. The world is an orderly place – governed by universal truths and laws. Among them, action demands reaction, and energy is released! Therein lies the answer. As Vince Lombardi once said, “the dictionary is the only place where success comes before work”.

Success never chases anyone, but it seems to find those people who carefully take the right steps.

If you want to become the most successful development person, then you need to become one of the busiest development people. Fundraising begins with friend raising, moving through the community telling people about the good works of your charitable organization, differentiating your institution from among the others and asking people to help you pay for the work that you are doing.

Some of you reading this may be saying to yourself, “yes, that sounds good in theory, but how does that relate directly to me”? Well, the strategy above is like clothes off the rack in a men’s store – you have to tailor it well to make it fit properly. If you will learn this theory and carefully consider how to apply it in your own work, you will see a difference. Consider the following example.

Let’s imagine, for example, that you just became the executive director (or development director) of a social service agency in a middle-sized town of some 275,000 people. Your organization (we will call it Society Cares for purposes of this example) serves people in short-term need of food, clothing, medical and dental care, and emergency referrals. Society Cares has an annual budget of $300,000, which comes from churches (60%), individual contributors (20%), businesses (10%) and foundations & government grants (10%).

Every year, late in the fall, Society Cares has to stop everything and make a big push for funds to eliminate the year-end deficit. This places stress on the entire organization. Society Cares must become more self-sufficient by raising more money from generous individuals in the community who care about its mission and the people it serves.

Your board chairperson has just had a “come to the mountaintop” meeting with you, explaining that improved fundraising is going to be job #1 for you. “I went to bat with the board to get you this enormous $40,000 salary (which is twice what we were paying the last guy), and now you have to help me justify our decision. You are going to make me look good, aren’t you”? Just to relax you he adds, “I am counting on you. Please don’t let me down”.

How do you start? Perhaps the best way is with a fundraising and public relations plan. Begin by relating how much time you have available to the amount of work you need to accomplish. Let’s begin by mapping out your first year. You have 52 weeks, less two weeks vacation, so let’s build a 50-week plan. Let’s create some other assumptions:

  • You have a board with 25 members
  • You have 150 annual donors of $100 or more (50 of whom give $500 or more)
  • You have another 350 donors (of less than $100 annually)
  • You have 25 churches giving $5,000 plus annually (12 of whom give you $10,000 plus)
  • You have another 50 churches that give something
  • You have 75 volunteers
  • There are 100 public officials and political leaders in your community
  • There are at least 50 civic and social clubs of significant size in your community
  • There are prospects too numerous to count in your community

As a seasoned fundraiser, you are very aware that the best way to raise money is face-to-face, friend-to-friend, and above all peer-to-peer. You must use this to your advantage as you build your schedule and organize your priorities for the coming year.

You have a charitable operation to run, clients to serve (and they must be served well), and many duties to perform. In addition to the tasks that must be done each week to ensure the proper operation of the service side, you need to mix in enough fundraising and public relations activity to build a much stronger organization.

Begin by budgeting enough time to see all (or most) of the above people in person at least once during the year on a casual or informal basis. Obviously, you will have to prioritize the amount of time you give to each group, but you should try to touch them all personally. You can also create a speakers bureau that would have leading volunteers and board members out speaking on behalf of the agency in places where you cannot go.

Given the above assumptions, the fundraising and public relations side of your calendar should look something like this. Each week, you should schedule personal meetings with:

To Whom Should I Appeal?

  • Board members 1
  • Annual donors of $500 or more 1
  • Annual donors of $100 or more 3
  • Prospects (From among annual donors of less than $100 annually) 2
  • Churches which give you $10,000 plus annually 1
  • Churches giving $5,000 plus annually 1
  • Churches that give something less than $5,000 annually 1
  • Volunteers 2
  • Public officials and political leaders 2
  • Civic and social clubs/with speaker’s bureau 1
  • Top Prospects (presently non-donors) 2
  • Total Number of People to See Weekly for Fundraising/PR Plan 17

This means that you need to make about 17 visits per week to speak to each of these people. They can come to you, or you can go to them. Each meeting can last anywhere from a half an hour to an hour and a half, depending upon their level of interest and enthusiasm for your organization. This is going to take up about half of your time if you spend 40-50 hours on the job weekly, but it will pay enormous dividends – dividends in what you learn about people and their relationship with your charity, dividends as you watch relationships grow and dividends in the cash your organization finds on its bottom line at the end of your year’s tenure as executive director. Now that we know what is required, in general anyway, we can go about doing the work. If you are destined to become a very successful development professional, this is the easy part. This is the fun. It is a wonderful opportunity to go meet and get better acquainted with very nice and capable people, most of whom will be anxious to help.

If you will share your love for the organization you lead and ask these thoughtful people to help you fund the good works of your non-profit, I know those people will surprise you with their generosity and overwhelm you with success. If, however, you don’t get out and establish these friendships and encourage people to help you and your organization, they will find someone else who needs (or seems to need) the help more. You cannot spell success without “U”, and your hard work.

During each of your 17 weekly visits, you should be asking these people to help you in as many ways as possible. At the very least, those of modest means should be encouraged to consider a larger gift to the organization, and those of significant means should be challenged to consider much larger gifts with even more far reaching implications. Each person should be asked as personally as possible for as much as is possible. If you always do that, tastefully and graciously, then you will see no end to your success!

When you think to yourself, “should I ask them now”? The answer is yes! If you ask yourself, “should we really ask for that much”? The answer is absolutely yes!

Please consider reading and rereading this article. Each time, it will help you focus on that which is going to make you a big success – your tireless and targeted effort to educate, motivate and solicit the support of your many constituents.

Good luck and be sure to have some fun!

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