When it comes to conceptualizing and implementing a successful fundraising program, setting priorities will play a crucial role.
You might be tempted to think that your priority is simply to raise as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. You might also think that covering all your fundraising bases is a good fundraising strategy, and if you have the budget and resources to do so, then GREAT! But rarely is this the case, so you need to make choices based upon your greatest needs and the nature of your donor base.
Regardless of how your program plays out, it is imperative that it possesses an ideal direction, not just out of the starting gate, but beforehand to ensure maximum benefit and minimal hassle.
What goes into setting priorities, though? Let’s take a look.
Understanding your goals
Ultimately, what are you looking to achieve? Your specific goals will help you to decide your strategy. For example:
- Do you need money now, or in the future? While streams such as planned giving and major gifts have a very high return on investment, they can take years to come to fruition. This is important to remember when making decisions about what funding streams to adopt in your organization.
- How much do you have to invest? Direct mail is good at reaching a large number of people at once. It also helps you to feed and grow the pipeline to other more lucrative funding streams, such as monthly giving, planned giving and major gifts. However, direct mail is one of the more costly funding streams. Can you afford to make the investment in direct mail now so that you can reap the larger rewards that come from planned giving and other streams later? Alternatively, can you afford not to make such an investment for the long-term health of your fundraising program?
- Is growing your donor base the priority, or do you need to focus on engaging your existing donors better? Organizations often put their focus upon growing their donor base year-on-year, but then do a poor job of keeping their existing donors happy. Since it costs much more to recruit a new donor than to keep an existing one, ensuring that you focus first on the donors that you have rather than only on acquiring new ones might need to be your priority, at least for the time being.
- Do you need to raise restricted or unrestricted funding? Of course, we all want funding that we can spend anywhere, but realistically, you might need to look at a more balanced approach since restricted funding is often easier to get, particularly when it comes to grant funding and major gifts.
Analyse your donor data
What does your data tell you about where you need to prioritize your fundraising? Perhaps there are certain segments of donors that you rely heavily on for your income but the pool is small and senior, with the risk of natural attrition shrinking that pool. Also, if they are major donors, will losing even a few of them hit your budget hard?
Do you find that you are losing almost all your new donors as soon as you acquire them? Or have you noticed that you have a large number of people who are giving multiple gifts a year, but they aren’t becoming monthly donors despite the high potential to do so? In addition, do you find that many people respond to certain appeals but not to others? Could this help you to determine the kind of messaging you need to be putting out there to engage your donors?
As we’ve said before, your data tells a story. As such, it can help you to determine where you prioritize your efforts when determining where to go next with your fundraising program.
Analyse donor stewardship
Do you need to set some priorities around your donor stewardship? Donor attrition is at an all-time-high, with some organizations at risk of losing as much as 60% of their donor base after a year of neglect. Additionally, donors are increasingly telling us that charities are not treating them right, with many feeling constantly pestered and squeezed for more contributions. Some also feel that the language is too negative, with less of an emphasis placed on success stories to demonstrate what kind of difference donors make. So, while it can be tempting to focus all your attention on “getting the money”, you could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
To protect your program from encountering a leaky bucket effect, ensure that your organization develops a mutual trust between yourselves and all donors. This means that you’ll need to ensure that nobody falls through the cracks when it comes to building fruitful relationships, that they are adequately respected and appreciated in return for their generosity, and that they can actively and sufficiently engage with your organization.
So take a look at your donor stewardship efforts. Are there any groups that are not being stewarded at all or being missed from your regular communications? Are you perhaps focusing more on asking than engaging, thanking and recognizing? Are you talking enough about the donor’s impact? Maintaining your donor’s trust will always be a primary driver of your program’s success, so you must make sure that you are giving it the right level of attention.
Make time your friend, not your enemy
It is important to always remember that you are only human and that your organization is also run by humans, not machines. When it comes to scheduling activities, events and working with a limited amount of time, it’s best to be realistic and honest with yourself about how much your organization can accomplish and complete in the amount of time available. Planning beyond your means can cause chaos when it comes to prioritization, with the path to a successful program muddled with needless complications and busywork that can spell certain trouble.
When scheduling time, it’s also important to remember that as your fundraising program grows, you need to increase the amount of time you spend on it. More donors mean more people to pay attention to, more segments to focus on, more stewardship to do. That might mean that you need to drop certain other activities, build in better tools to increase efficiency or increase your staff team.
Be financially responsible
Much in the way that adequate time management can help to set effective priorities, planning around your budget can protect your organization from encountering financial roadblocks down the road.
As we’ve mentioned, different funding streams result in a different level of return at different times. Being financially responsible means that you are fully prepared for that, and you plan your strategy accordingly.
Being financially responsible does not just mean that you spend as little on fundraising and donor stewardship as possible. It means you protect your interests, and a key interest of your organization is your donors pool. It take resources to grow it and maintain it.
In addition, having a diverse fundraising plan results in a robust program that is sustainable and will ensure that the organization is able to survive for the long term, that you mitigate risk more effectively and do not end up relying on too few funding sources.
Any fundraising program can run into a myriad of roadblocks and niggling issues, but by setting adequate priorities a more successful and positive outcome is more likely.
So when planning your program, take a step back, breathe and think to yourselves, “What is the most important thing for us, and what are we trying to achieve?”