Eyes Wide Shut: Is Fundraising Nirvana Even Possible?

April 14, 2016

It happened in an instant, in the middle of a lackluster workshop that I’ve long forgotten. The truth is, I can’t recall a single take away from the day’s training, but something was still illuminated for me. About three-quarters of the way into the day, we gathered in groups to share our challenges. That’s when my eyes were opened, and I’ll never forget it.

Because that’s when two participants revealed that they were — no, not fundraising staff, or marketing staff — but program staff employed by a local women’s shelter. Their eyes were shining as they enthusiastically relayed how excited they were by the day’s training. Before it had started, they’d been dreading the workshop and wondering what in the world fundraising training had to do with their jobs.

Now, they couldn’t wait to get back to the office to share their clients’ stories with development and marketing.

It was a light bulb moment for me, you see, because I witness this kind disconnect every day:

I’ve noticed it happening within smaller organizations, where I’ve been hired as the fifth development director…in two years. You know the drill: you’re expected to write that million dollar grant that’s going to save everyone’s ass, or miraculously acquire a major gift from a donor who has been ignored for five years straight. The expectations are high, and so is the general feeling that fundraising is somehow dirty and the rest of the organization is glad that you’re on board so they can wash their hands of it. History is doomed to repeat itself.

I’ve found it occurring in mid-sized and larger organizations, where there’s a huge disconnect between fundraising and marketing. The dreaded silos.

Frankly, I see it in every organization where fundraising isn’t viewed as an integral part of the organization’s mission. This disconnect prevents your organization from truly excelling in fundraising.

What is the remedy?

  1. Wholeheartedly embrace donor-centricity. The term may sound like a buzzword, but I can assure you that it isn’t. It’s an essential mindset, a philosophy, an organizational culture — and it’s necessary in order for any nonprofit to function brilliantly. The element of donor-centricity should be interwoven with your organization’s identity — because you continue to exist and do great work because of your supporters.
  2. Understand that everyone in your organization plays a crucial role in fundraising success. “But I’m not a fundraiser!” is a cop-out. You need every member of your team on board. That collective passion, enthusiasm, and drive is essential to your fundraising success. When each of the machine’s parts are running at optimal capacity, the machine runs smoothly. It knows how to handle the bumps in the road. Which brings me to…
  3. The power of persistence. Turned down after “doing everything right” to secure that major gift? Disappointed that your capital campaign isn’t faring as well as you’d planned? Wondering why a long-time donor has suddenly decided to stop giving? These are not failures — they’re bumps in the road. So own them as part of your journey, and trek onward and upward. Communicate in an effective way with the foundation and donors who’ve turned you down, and find out why. They’ll be impressed that you reached out to them. Don’t close the window on the relationship, or the potential for one.

But how does this work in real life?

Mandy Fischer, Development Director for Intervale Center in Burlington Vermont, says that her organization has experienced a sea change since working with the Simple Development Systems model. She writes:

“It is amazing what you can accomplish with an attitude adjustment. In addition to including a “culture of philanthropy” one pager with board and staff expectations in every new staff and Board orientation packet, we do a COP training for board and staff each year, and we constantly stress that development is a mission-aligned program of the organization.

As a result, everyone at the Intervale Center is a great ambassador who can articulate a case for giving.

We love our donors, and they love us.

Our ED is a committed and wonderful fundraiser. We are achieving incredible success; with a very busy two weeks left, we expect to exceed our community fundraising targets by at least 10% again this year (Note: Intervale exceeded their goals by 20%).

Our success means more local, organic food to hungry people, more native trees planted in our watersheds, more farmers receiving business planning and marketing support, and more fun for everybody in our community. We LOVE our jobs! It’s incredible to get to be the bridge between our donors’ greatest passions and the world’s greatest needs.”

My goal – and yours – shouldn’t be about creating your organization’s next ice bucket challenge. Gimmicks are fleeting, and quick fixes won’t guarantee long-term success. The purpose of my work, and yours, should be to grow a healthy, sustainable nonprofit.

How are you thinking big and growing your fundraising?

The fact is, there aren’t any shortcuts or magic bullets, and there never will be. You have to do the work and put in the blood, sweat, and tears. But here’s the truth: when your focus is in the right places, when it’s on celebrating your donors and what their work makes possible, and when everyone on your team recognizes the role they play, yes, your fundraising will reach a state of nirvana. I guarantee it.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Roth April 14, 2016 at 10:01 am

I would love to see the one pager that Mandy uses for Board and staff. It’s a great idea. Thanks Pam.

Pamela Grow April 14, 2016 at 2:52 pm

I’ll ask her if she’ll share it. Thanks Chris.

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