7 Fabulous Nonprofit Fundraising Lessons From Farming

April 13, 2015

Growing up in Jamaica I was surrounded by small farms. I loved seeing rows of crops popping out of the ground like soldiers in perfect formation. I marveled at their rapid growth. What magic!
Crop growth may seem magical but farming is hard work. It requires preparation and nurturing to produce good harvests.

Organic FarmSome plants will bear abundantly while others don’t. The same is true for fundraising prospects and donors.

How do you manage those that don’t produce a good harvest?

Should you burn them?

Or find other ways to make them useful in the cultivation process?

Low-producers can have a positive impact on future crops…
…IF you make the right choice!

Years ago, I arranged for for a gentleman by the name of John to visit Jamaica on a mission trip. The experience moved him deeply.

You see, he saw children coming to school in bare feet.

He watched in amazement as they crammed their sweaty little bodies into overcrowded, shabby, classrooms with broken benches and desks.

The cacophony of their growling, hungry stomachs still echoes in his ears.

John came back fired up!

He planned to solicit the many affluent people he knew, confident that they’d write huge checks once he shared his story. I encouraged him to start small, by making a personal contribution.

Nothing happened.

Over the next year…

I checked in with him periodically to update him on the school. He’d relive memories and share more dreams for raising money from his contacts.

Nothing happened!

One year later…

The school’s principal said, “John is all talk. Why are you wasting your time?”

“It’s not about the money,” I assured him. “It’s about building relationships.”

Six months later we received John’s first gift!

It was a check for $35 – from a man with the capacity to give thousandsWah, Wah, WAH!

I thanked him for standing up for the sweet children he’d hugged and encouraged him to give again.

You guessed it… Nothing happened!

Eight months later…

I invited John to partner with us to build a pre-school for 200 children from this very poor community. I asked him to pledge $50 per month towards St. Patrick’s Pre-School Dream.

“I’ll talk to all my friends,” he promised.

Nothing happened!

Three months later I got this email:

“Dear Rachel:
You don’t know me but I’m a friend of John and he shared the proposal you send him for St. Patrick’s Pre-School Dream. I’d like to talk with you about supporting this project…”
John’s friend pledged $700… PER MONTH!

I sent a heartfelt thank you the day the first gift arrived and congratulated John for making it happen.

Then the second gift arrived. It wasn’t for the pledge amount.

John’s friend upgraded his gift to $2,100 per month without being asked!!

JamaicaSchoolWhat’s the next move?

  1. Nurture the relationship with our major donor and communicate frequently about the lives he’s impacting. Thank him at every opportunity.
  2. Then, help John understand that being a donor to a cause you’re passionate about increases your influence exponentially. When he approached his friend, he’d already made his first (and only) gift. The size didn’t matter!

Yes, fundraising really is like farming:

  1. It’s hard work.
  2. You have to be patient.
  3. Practice good cultivation techniques. Know the difference between a seed that fails to germinate and a plant that bears less than its full potential.
  4. If a constituent has a powerful connection to your mission but is slow to contribute, don’t burn them! Plow them back into the soil by keeping them in the loop. They will nourish others in their own time.
  5. Sometimes plants need to be pruned. Enthusiastic supporters may need reality checks to make them effective. Empower them to succeed by helping them set realistic goals and become their chief encourager.
  6. Never underestimate the power of a prompt, heartfelt, thank you letter.
  7. Always remember, fundraising is not about the money. It’s about relationships!

Rachel Ramjattan, CFRE, is a Simple Development Systems member. She has worked in the nonprofit industry for more than 20 years. You can find her @RachelNPP or rayramj@yahoo.com
For more information about the St. Patrick’s Pre-School Dream project mentioned above, visit http://www.razoo.com/story/Fr-Thomas-Dynetius-Fundraising-For-St-Patrick-S-Pre-School-Dream

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