Five Ways to Sabotage Your Fundraising

August 26, 2010

1.  Practicing lousy follow-up (or none at all)

You’ve heard it said before.  Good development is all about building relationships.

You “know” that fact.  Yet how many times have you sighed over that grant proposal declination letter and filed it away with the proposal – without taking the time to contact the foundation to learn more?

How many times have you sent out that thank you letter for a donation … without bothering to call personally to thank the donor?

Do your volunteers feel genuinely appreciated?

Building relationships takes time – cultivate an *attitude of gratitude* and make the time to follow through.

Here’s a little story from my days with the Michigan State Legislature …  One of our state legislators, an elderly woman of 30-some years tenure, struck fear and loathing in the hearts of all who came into contact with her.  Disliked by her peers and staff alike, she was so difficult to work for that her offices were staffed with temps who lasted an average of two weeks.

Oh she was a holy terror!

Yet she was beloved in her district and served until the day she died.  Why?

Promise not to laugh.  This long-serving State Legislator’s secret was a simple one.  She made it a point to obtain the birth-dates of every one of her constituents that she’d met and sent out birthday letters (and this was in the days before computers!).

Corny?  Yes, but there’s no arguing with results.

2.  Hanging out with losers

Yes, I know that there’s something that feels warm and fuzzy about commiserating with your comrades about your God-awful board or your executive director or the abysmal latest stats on individual giving or why you can’t get the approval to launch an email newsletter or …

One word.  Don’t.

Sure things are tough out there.  And if you watch television, are online or read the news you’ll never find a dearth of folks reporting on gloom and doom (particularly when the #1 watched *news* station is powered by right-wing corporate interests who would like to keep you living in fear).  When you lunch with your development buddies or attend a local association workshop, you’ll probably hear the same thing.

Don’t listen.  Stay away.

Put your focus on recognizing opportunities, creative approaches and taking action.

3.  Wasting time

My long-time readers know that I am not a fan of events, at least the types of events that many smaller nonprofits are engaged in.  Perhaps my prejudice stems from an instance in my early days in development as a grant writer for a mid-sized women’s organization.  An annual golf outing had been scheduled (this despite the fact that we were a woman’s organization and nary a board member even played golf) and I found myself constantly pulled off task by the director of development to assist the event planner in such tasks as tying goodie bags, driving miles to pick up *free* donated goods, etc., etc.  In the end, this event netted less than $5,000.

Being busy does not equate with being effective.

4.  Not creating systems

If you’re a *seat of the pants development director* you’ll never develop truly sustainable funding.  Know how much you need to raise from individuals and grants.  Develop a strategy for public relations and using social media.  Create systems for implementation.

My own systems were created nine years ago when I served in my first position as development director for a small regional nonprofit.  I had a total of 15 hours a week to make a difference – and you’d better believe I wasted no time in creating categorized systems to make it happen.  Every week I mailed out between one and three grant proposals.  I made it a practice to connect with four or five donors every week.  I attended the local Rotary meeting without fail every week.  And our organization had a column in the weekly community newspaper so we were in the public eye regularly.

5.  Living with poor self-discipline

It gets tougher and tougher, doesn’t it?  All the distractions of daily life – email, Twitter, Facebook, the phones – don’t make getting your job done any easier.

Do yourself a favor and check out this clip from Dan Ariely on procrastination.

Now tell me.  Have you started your organization’s monthly giving program?  Why not?  Does your organization have a regular (once a month minimum) email newsletter?  Why not?  Have you made your thank you calls to donors today?  Why not?

Make a commitment – and hold yourself accountable.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob Hampson September 9, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Some really great advice. I want to touch on your second point as I think it’s something that isn’t spoken enough about in the non-profit sector!

First of all we all know how important it is to have a positive mindset, and how being positive effects your work and success in a, well, “positive” way!

While on the other hand negativity produces procrastination, laziness, and a negative image on yourself and your organization. Which of course comes through and rubs off on your donors and potential donors… And nobody wants to donate to a negative organization!

So it’s important to be positive all the time! But it’s sometimes hard to keep up that positivity! So how do you?

When I was working direct door to door sales (monthly donation sign-ups) for charities in the UK, one of the most important factors of success that we were taught was to surround yourself with positive people. The phsycological effect that people around you, have on you, is probably a lot bigger than you think!

By surrounding yourself with positive people you in effect gain that positivity from them and emit it from yourself! Just think about how you felt the last time that really “positive person”, of who we all know one, entered the room and uplifted everyone by their positivity!

You felt better about life, more motivated and more believing in your potential successes!

But on the other hand how did you feel when that “person” who is always negative about life and always speaks about failure, is grumpy and is just horrible to be around??? Yip, you ended up feeling very similar to how he/she looked.

So, realize now that the people around you hugely effect your moods and outlook on life, whether negative or positive. And that in effect, effects your work and effeciency!

And so, the bottom line… Surround yourself and your organization with positive, uplifting people!

Lori Jacobwith January 5, 2012 at 6:48 am

Love this post, Pam! I’d like to add another item to the list: Not preparing the board to help with development. When board members are recruited and oriented it’s critical to let them know what you expect of them: i.e. showing up for meetings, attending events, making a gift, AND thanking donors, inviting others to attend events or make a gift…generally being involved in any and all aspects of development.

A board that doesn’t know your expectations and be willing to act on them can put all of your good work into jeopardy quickly.

Pamela Grow January 10, 2012 at 4:16 am

So true Lori. Your board can make or break your organization’s fundraising success.

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