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Fundraising Strategy and the Power of Listening

First, why is it so important for an organization to have a fundraising strategy?

Fundraising is all about strategy! Nonprofits aren’t setup for success without a good, solid plan. Today, more nonprofits are competing for donor’s dollars with less internal resources to manage the effort. Therefore, you have to be efficient, and you must be a good steward of donor dollars! It’s so important to ensure that no donor falls through the cracks. On top of all of that, you have to get it right every time! It can be daunting, right? A very wise woman I used to work with once told me “Hope is not a strategy.” In order to keep up with all of the moving pieces in fundraising, you must start with a strategy.

What advice can you offer to an organization whose fundraising strategy just isn’t working for them?

The most important thing to do is to stop, take a step back, and examine what’s not working. Examine the data closely. Try to really understand it. I have often found that bringing someone in from the outside with fundraising experience and an objective perspective helps. Even if you don’t bring an outside consultant in, you have to stop and figure out what’s going on.

When three out of every four first-time donors don’t make a second gift to an organization (this is the current national trend), something is wrong. We know this is happening, so why should we let it continue? There are always excuses – we’re too busy, we have limited resources, etc. If you’re thinking about your donors and being genuinely appreciative of them, stop and examine what’s going on and why it’s not working.

At what point should an organization develop or refine their fundraising strategy?

While it’s important to develop your strategy early on, it’s never too late to refine it! Regardless of your timing, you must have a plan for how you will engage your constituents. The pillars of fundraising are all about being donor-centric and showing genuine appreciation. If you’re doing those two things, you will be successful.

As the fundraising landscape continues to evolve, you should plan to review it every six months or so to gauge whether or not it’s working. Some questions to ask include:

• Are your donors being engaged in different ways?
• Are you growing your fundraising revenue?
• Do your donors prefer online giving or should you continue with traditional methods?
• Since donors are getting a lot of their information on social media, are you keeping up with where they are engaging?

What are some common frustrations that nonprofits are facing with managing their fundraising strategy?

For many organizations, outdated fundraising strategy is a major headache. At least once a day, I hear “it’s the way it’s always been done and we don’t have time to figure out how to do it differently.” The more we’re stuck in what we’re doing today, the worse it gets, and the less effective we’re going to be. Why not stop and get it right so going forward it’s not so cumbersome? The more efficient you are, the more time you have to do things that are meaningful. My Omatic fundraising motto is “people, process, and technology.” First, we look at the abilities of the people at an organization. Then, set out to build processes. Finally, the technology comes in because if you approach it first, it could hinder progress when the desired benefit is not clearly defined upfront.

What’s a great piece of advice that you’ve received?

Bernard Baruch once said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” I’ve found that to be true as well. In my role as a consultant, I always think people are paying to hear me talk, but they really want me to listen. They want me to understand what they are going through so I can better help them. And, yes… in many ways, this is similar to how donors want us to hear and understand their motives for giving!

As harsh as it may sound, “Shut up and listen” is often a very effective approach. Sometimes the more I talk, the further away I get from getting a complete picture. So, I try to just shut up and listen before jumping to any conclusions. This approach also includes knowing the right questions to ask and the right time to ask them.

When you aren’t busy helping nonprofits develop smart, effective fundraising strategies, what can we find you doing?

Anyone who knows me knows that I love spending time with my dog, Gus, going for walks, throwing the ball, doing the things that he loves. I also really enjoy hanging out by the pool with friends, and I love being in the kitchen. There’s something very therapeutic about chopping veggies and turning random items in my fridge into a delicious meal.

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