Is your ED or board holding you back from successful fundraising?

March 14, 2018

“I’ve written the perfect appeal. But my boss won’t let me use it!”
-a subscriber

“Does anyone really READ those letters? I hate them!”
-a nonprofit founder and Executive Director

In my work, I hear variations of the above refrains on a regular basis.

So in a recent Grow Report I asked my students and readers to share their greatest challenges in creating their organization’s direct mail fundraising appeal.

Whoa…did I hit a nerve!

One CEO confided:

“I write an appeal which is then taken to 2 committees and then the board.  Each group edits the letter, adding things for the reader to do and, in the end, confusing enough of them that they take no action.  I tell the various members that we can’t ask our donors to choose among 4 different options, but they think that more is better.”

Another Development Director wrote:

“Our CEO insists I write my newsletters and direct mail pieces to only highlight our great kids programs. When I try to explain that it’s less about sharing how great we are, but more about connecting to the donors, he cuts me off. I tell a lot of great stories, but he hates it when I put in donor specific requests.”

And in a recent Basics & More™ Direct Mail Fundraising Course, one participant wrote:

“We write something here and it gets edited and proofed to death.”

A fundraising manager who had just shared a story that brought me to tears wrote:

“You asked what people struggle with when preparing a direct mail campaign. For me there is a chance I won’t be able to use this story. I tried to use it for our annual appeal and was overruled on its suitability. I am going to have another go because I believe it is absolutely stunning and to also have that photograph – well let’s just say that I believe it is fundraising gold!”

Part of the challenge of effective, sustainable fundraising lies in getting everyone, from your ED to your staff to your board members, on the same page when it comes to an agreement of what

effective fundraising truly looks like. It’s easy to get lost and drown in a sea of what I refer to as sea of nickel and dime fundraising.  Activities like events, bake sales, Amazon smile, crowdfunding campaigns that raise $50 of a $2000 goal, Casino Night…the list goes on and on. The end result is not only a complete lack of direction, but dismal fundraising outcomes. Not to mention the distraction and frustration that comes with being trapped in a cycle akin to a hamster’s wheel; spinning your gears but not really getting anywhere.

You are a fundraising professional.

Repeat that after yourself. And, as such, you must behave like one. Have your numbers ready (a dashboard-type reporting system is a must), have your board member jobs (thank you calls and notes) lined up, have a plan in place. Eleanor Roosevelt said “ No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

You must be prepared to take the reins and lead. No one is going to give you permission.

The upcoming years will require more from US-based nonprofits than ever before. More commitment. More empathy. More focus — on the right things. The Basics. Your storytelling, your case for support, and your willingness to step up to the plate and lead. And above all else, your commitment to your donors.

Have you ever thought about giving up the fight?

There were times in my own career, during my positions working within nonprofits, when I did. But before you throw in the towel, think long and hard about it. Carina was a fundraiser who had contemplated quitting her nonprofit job. She adored the mission, but struggled with her boss. After a year in Basics & More™, following our coaching session, she wrote:

“I am so excited to say that after our coaching session, I was able to have an open and honest conversation with my ED. I advocated for a grant-writing consultant to come on so that I can spend more time loving our donors, and got the green light to co-create a plan to promote a culture of philanthropy that engages our Board and staff. Plus – I got a raise and a promotion! I am looking forward to implementing even more of the ideas I have learned from your Basics and More classes in the upcoming year! Your advice was really the tipping point in my deciding to stay with this job!”

And remember, the best fundraising results come from organizations with a strong culture of philanthropy – where everyone’s on the same page. Basics & More™ online learning courses were designed to get your entire team on board — working, learning, and implementing together. Basics & More creates harmony within your organization, providing a plan in the form of a detailed roadmap and creating a clear picture of what successful fundraising should look like for your nonprofit. When you enroll in a Basics & More™ class, you’ll have the opportunity to register up to seven team members (board members, staff, volunteers ), to help ensure that everyone is on the same page.


A version of this post originally appeared on Pamelasgrantwritingblog.com on October 5, 2012.

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