FREE: 10 years of fundraising experience!
This month exactly 10 years ago, I started my first job as a fundraiser! And from the beginning I was hooked. I love fundraising, because it enables change. Vision and passion combined with great fundraising enables important change. And as a fundraiser you play an important part in that change.
So, looking back over those 10 years, what did I learn? I’ve listed the most important strategic ingredients for a successful fundraising program. Ten years of fundraising experience summarized in one blog post. You only need 3:49 minutes of reading to catch up with 10 years. Now that seems like the bargain of the decade!
(A big thank you to all my fundraising colleagues from Médecins du Monde, Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace who made me the fundraiser I currently am. And a special thanks to Roger and John for the teachings in the early days!)
Fundraisers are gold. Quality fundraising staff makes all the difference. Without the right staff you can forget the rest of this blog post. And they need to come in numbers as well. So, both quality and quantity. It’s a big big (2x) shame that fundraising programs are slowed down by constraints in human resources.
Database as foundation. The biggest part of our income probably comes from direct mail and telemarketing campaigns. Without a reasonably functioning database you’d better go home. The next frontier: integrate your online and offline databases… Because everybody predicts a huge shift towards online fundraising in the future, we still need to keep measuring what we do and store our data.
Going the distance. A long term view on fundraising is key for the Life Time Value of your supporters. Nowadays we would like our supporters to stay longer than the first year. Read all about it in this popular blog post: “One-night stands ruin your fundraising”.
The right culture. Your Management Team and Board should not be against Fundraising. They should put fundraising on an equal level as the services your organization provides. This means they should dare to invest in both FTE and Euro on the short and long term. Heads of Fundraising should be in the MT. Board and MT should commit their time to the fundraising result. And above all, the threats or opportunities for fundraising should be taken into consideration (but not leading) when decisions are made with regard to the services provided.
RAI = Returns After Investment. Like any other business model where we want to earn money, we need to invest first. Sometimes even quite heavily. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as you know what you’re doing. We can minimize the risk as much as possible, but there is always risk. But without investment there will be no returns. And in general: less investment will result in fewer returns.
Nobody knows it all. Don’t work on your programs all the time. You’re never too old to learn, so go out and get that external view on things. Go to workshops, trainings and congresses or get your knowledge online! Create a professional network and keep in contact. Subscribe to this crowdblog and check out SOFII for showcases of fundraising innovation and inspiration…
Copy, paste & innovate. Why spend so much time on inventing a new engaging, ambitious and cutting edge campaign while you don’t even have some of the most proven techniques and programs implemented? On the other hand, always keep an eye (and budget) open for new angles and opportunities. Keep testing new stuff in your search for new acquisition and retention methods. Both offline and online.
Back to basics. Numero uno: Ask for money! If more emphasis was possible I would use it, because, in contrast what some board members might think, there is no line of wealthy individuals outside your office waiting to be approved by you to become a life time loyal donor. Another basic one often forgotten: get your processes and procedures up to 100%.
Try FRIENDraising. Fundraising exists because of supporters. They are more important than anything else. If you need help, you turn to your friends. In fundraising it’s no different. It’s all about relationship and donor loyalty. Treat your supporters as you would treat your friends and you’ll be a better fundraiser. And don’t forget to thank them. Please thank your donors! And your database will be as crowded as your birthday.
Love thy numbers. Fundraising is about warm relationships, but we express this affection in cold numbers, so crunch those numbers often, because they’ll tell you more than you think. How many of you have dedicated Fundraising Analysts employed? E.g. they’ll tell when attrition rates peak, so you know when to intervene…
The P for planning. If you don’t plan, you don’t know where to go and you’ll waste money, because efficiency is out the window. Writing a five-year-strategic or just an annual plan is a lot of work, but also extremely important to set the course you’re sailing. Check out this blog to see why the somewhat boring topic of annual plans is much more important than most fundraisers realize.
Image is everything. And everything is image. And while positive communication never hurts, bad publicity is always very negative. Image has a profound impact on your fundraising, now and the years to come. Professional, transparent and consistent communication wins in the end. Please don’t confuse awareness with a good image. And be good to the sector as a whole! Your dirty laundry or stupid communication can negatively affect the entire sector…
Priorities first. Like in any workplace you need to prioritize your activities. Why work on your Facebook marketing, while you don’t even have your social media or public engagement strategy in place? Or why have one full time staff member working on banner advertising, and recruiting 2% of all new supporters, while your high value relationship manager is screaming for more staff to simply say thank you to €10K+ supporters?
Communication & Fundraising. Everybody knows the never ending story of whether Comms and Fundraising should be part of the same department… well they should. For the obvious reason that Comms should not only be supporting the organizational mission, but also the fundraising objectives. Work together.
Tell the right story. Fundraising is about engaging our donors in the goals we’re fighting for. We don’t do that by reading them the Annual Report (which in most cases would be a good bed time story, by the way), but we transfer our important message in a personal story. Fundraisers are storytellers, so tell inspiring stories. And don’t tell the same story to a new supporter as you do to a supporter that has been with you for ten years. Have you mapped your supporter journey?
What it’s all about. In the end it’s all about your nonprofit’s cause and not about fundraising. High standard quality service provided in line with the organizational mission and vision is the best thing that could happen to your fundraising. And, if your organization is not doing a damn good job, would you want to work for them anyway?
These points are more or less the basic ingredients for a great fundraising program. At the same time, I’m also sure I haven’t covered everything, so please let me know what important strategic angle I’m missing here in the comments below.
Or if you want to congratulate me with my 10 year anniversary, I’d be happy to receive your congratulations. :-)
Sarah Clifton · April 6, 2011 at 14:19
Great post, Reinier! Thanks for sharing your insights and congrats on your anniversary!
I just want to echo the point that “database is everything”. It surprises me how many (smaller) orgs see a database as “just that annoying tool”. I hope that more fundraising managers will follow your lead and invest time and money in good technology planning!
Julie Marshall · April 8, 2011 at 01:33
I echo Sarah’s comment I have been banging on about “database” for over 10 years now, and I still feel that it is one of the biggest problems with Donor Retention.
I had a CEO tell me once NOT to put my Trust and Foundation records into a separate group because, the term trust and foundation just meant fundraising anyway. Needless to say I am no longer there.
From down under, well done Reinier! Your points were very succinctly put and a good guide. I hope you are here in another 10years. I have seen some great things come from the organisations you have been associated with.
Walter van Kaam · April 6, 2011 at 14:22
Let me first of all congratulate you on your 10th anniversary!
Great blogpost! All so very true! Thanks for reminding all of us.
In my humble opinion there is one thing missing in your list, although it’s clear that it is there:
Passion! As it turns a good fundraiser in a great fundraiser.
Roger Craver · April 6, 2011 at 14:28
Happy Anniversary, Reinier. You’ve done and continue to do great work. Keep it up!
Pelagia de Wild · April 6, 2011 at 14:49
Keep up the good work Reinier! In the next 10 exciting years …
Mbiko Tanggahma · April 6, 2011 at 15:05
“Ask and thy shall be given!”
Congratulations on your 10 years working as a fundraiser!
Olga Prat · April 6, 2011 at 15:47
Oh! you are a little older than me! ;-) Congratulations Reinier.
Thanks for reminding us all those points a fundraisier has to deal with. They are all important and the key point is about keeping them all running at the same time.
I would also add passion. True passion is necessary to recruit supporters to our cause, but also to not giving up half-way.
Anton Hendriks · April 6, 2011 at 16:17
Many congratulations, and here’s to another ten years of inspired fundraising! By the way, when did you start wearing a suit?
All the best!
maaike hoeks · April 6, 2011 at 16:34
congrats!!! and will keep an eye on your blog from time to time. cheers! maaike
Joachim · April 6, 2011 at 16:54
Congrats fundraising champ!
Karine Klein · April 6, 2011 at 17:01
Bravo Reinier !
Happy anniversary and congratulations for your generous way of sharing your passion and your expertise for/in fundraising. I enjoyed the blogpost as your previous “papers” and really look forward to your 20th anniversary!
Thanks again and all the very best for today and the exciting fundraising years to come.
Take good care,
Daniel Ole Momposhi. · April 6, 2011 at 17:04
Receive my heartfelt congrats from Kenya – East Africa.
Congratulations to you and your team for ten years achievements of successful fundraising. May you expand your horizon, increase, and gain but never reduce nor loose. May you celebrate more and more anniversaries again. Would love to see you at the peak of this globe.
Best Wishes in your success,
Tara Lepp · April 6, 2011 at 17:05
Congratulations Reinier on your 10th anniversary! This was an excellent post. I echo that Communications and Fundraising have to work together. Often communications people get a hold of a great fundraising piece and take out everything that makes it an effective fundraising piece.
Reinier Spruit · April 6, 2011 at 22:37
Wow, thank you all for the congratulations and best wishes!
And Walter and Olga, you are absolutely right. “Passion” deserves a paragraph of his own. The reason I didn’t add it was probably because I think it’s a natural and inherent quality that goes with the job. But you are right, there is a difference between fundraisers and passionate fundraisers.
Hopefully, I’ve also inspired some of you who are reading this to share your own experiences on this crowdblog on fundraising! If you also want to blog… join the crowd!
Thanks again everybody!
Jay Frost · April 7, 2011 at 04:17
Congrats on your first big 10!
Julie · April 7, 2011 at 12:14
Also congratulations on your 10 years in the fundraising business!!
I loved your blog and agree with all of them. As you asked, one thing that might be added is, test, test and test again. Never assume you know if something is going to work, so test and make it better. This is one of the great advantages of fundraising we can test so many exciting things and get clear result. So pick the best and roll it out!
Keep coming with these great blogs.
Heather Stewart · April 7, 2011 at 16:36
Happy anniversary! I’m 15 years in myself so can testify to fundraising being a great job! Completely agree that management and the board ‘supporting’ fundraising is essential. All too often I’ve been in organisations where they do it because ‘everyone else is’ or ‘some consultant told us to’ without realising that they actually need to and should be fundraising and building relationships all the time if they want their organisation to grow. And so often there is a lack of understanding about the timings involved in fundraising. Relationship building is absolutely the key to it and that ain’t going to happen overnight. Great post – enjoyed reading it!
Nick Hennegan · April 8, 2011 at 20:04
Fundraisers can be the backbone of a company. And talking of which, I’m looking for a fundraiser to work part-time on a theatre project in London. Do part-timers exist? Perhaps you can help with some advice. Where would I go to find someone?
Apart from this, well done again!
Lucy Gower · April 10, 2011 at 20:03
Congratulations! Great post. Keep up the good work.
Fred Goldfarb · April 11, 2011 at 21:31
Congratualtions Reineir, and a wonderful, happy, productive 10+ years more!
I’ve spent 21 years in nonprofit management (programs, chapters/sections, student programs, working with special interest groups) and help many increase their funds. One group started with just $300 and thanks to a deal ( negotiated with a trade group got $70,000, which was reinvested and over 3 years produced over $300,000! Like you said, use what works, don’t reinvent the wheel (at least not every time), and keep pluggin’ away. Sounds like you’re having fun doing what you do too! What a GREAT way to live!
Fred (http://www.linkedin.com/in/fredgoldfarb )
cindy lauren · April 13, 2011 at 22:56
dude- you rock. this was a lovely way to celebrate your years. many congrats and appreciation both sharing and clarity!
Dan Blakemore · April 25, 2011 at 00:48
Congratulations on 10 years in fundraising and here’s to many more!
Thanks for sharing your great advice, I definitely found it useful.
Jaya Singh.Thomas · April 30, 2011 at 15:22
A very well said fundraiser… Keep it up.. we are really infant in this .. good that people r sharing things that makes other masters
Best of Luck and God’s blessings
Harjit · May 4, 2011 at 11:22
Congratulations and Thanks for sharing your great advice.
Free Job Posting · February 25, 2013 at 10:46
Fundraising professionals are often the least recognized and most abused employees in an organization !!
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chandan Dabi · September 1, 2020 at 08:32
Congratulations. You wrote it with your experience so it has different value and guide for new person in fund raising.
Keep writing your experience