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Stop Thinking Outside the Fundraising Box

Stop Thinking Outside the Fundraising BoxTime and time again I hear the call for developing fundraising solutions that are “outside the box.” Too often, creative development professionals attempt to devise catchier fundraising events or complicated, highly segmented direct mail appeals in an effort to generate more charitable dollars. Unfortunately, more often than not, the return on investment (ROI) of these plans falls far short of expectations.

Creative solutions and new ways to invite people to more fully understand and support an organization’s mission are great as long as they are in addition to and do not replace the most fundamental and successful fundraising technique of all time—personal solicitation.

It is an axiom of fundraising that if you can successfully convey your organization’s vision and make an inspired appeal for support, more often than not you will receive a positive response. But not all asks are equal. Development professionals should invest their time wisely, where the greatest returns are to be found.

Direct Mail Is Useful, but Not Sufficient

Given the significant time and resources necessary to develop and create segmented direct mail solicitation, unless you have a database of a million or more current direct mail donors, your direct mail efforts will never surpass the success you will enjoy through the more traditional route of personal solicitation.

Direct mail is a valuable solicitation tool for most of us, but its most effective role is as a communication piece that sets the stage for greater personal involvement with donors. Consider your direct mail program as a sorting tool to help identify potential major gift donors. If a donor is willing to send in a couple of hundred dollars a year and perhaps a significant gift of $1,000 in response to your special year-end appeal, just think of the potential payback from a personal visit.

Why Doesn’t Personal Solicitation Happen More?

Part of the answer lies in humans’ natural desire to stay well within our comfort zones. Does anyone really like to get on the phone and book appointments with prospective donors?

Motivating your development staff to establish personal relationships with major donors is critical. Rather than “Think Outside the Box,” we must get back to basics. Managers must create an environment where every member of the development team clearly understands that he or she is accountable for a specific number of personal contacts/visits, each and every week.

Each team member should have a weekly moves management plan and meeting to review the prior week’s results and the schedule for the coming week. Managers should consider holding this meeting on Friday mornings. Agree on how many personal visits will be completed each week and communicate your clear expectations that they are booked before the end of day Friday. I found early in my career that having a weekly report meeting not only held me accountable but was also very motivating.

Successful development professionals spend a lot of time out of the office. Cutting back on time a development professional spends out of the office meeting with prospects will have a direct impact on the number of donors you can expect and your fundraising potential. A red flag should immediately go up when you are diverting time from the field to helping coordinate other fundraising activities.

Concerned that weekly team meetings and the clear expectation of weekly visits with donors will suck all the creativity out of the job? Don’t confuse process with creativity. The real creativity needed for success in this business is the ability to communicate your organization’s mission and vision to a potential donor so that he or she fully understands how his/her gift plays a vital role in reaching that vision—and, you guessed it, this is done most effectively face to face.

Stop Thinking Outside the Fundraising BoxThe preceding is a guest post by Robert P. (Bob) Hoak. Bob has nearly three decades of nonprofit fundraising and management experience. As managing director at Orr Associates, Inc., Bob works with clients on a broad range of projects, including strategic planning, board recruitment and development, and fundraising strategy and implementation.

Topics: Fundraising Management Development