It’s Not Your Mission That’s Holding You Back!

Older ministries that are not meeting their funding goals, or those that experience an outright decline in donor funding, can begin to panic.  They can make desperate decisions, like changing a long-held mission.

The reality is that many ministry organizations would rather change their mission than identify, accept, and then address those internal issues that are the most likely sources of their funding problems.  So they place the blame on their mission and throw away years of mission investment to focus on areas that may seem to have greater funding potential, but in the end become their undoing.

Your mission is worthy because God validates it, not because man funds it.  Your history proves your mission’s value, even if you haven’t had much success in demonstrating that to donors.

Ministry leaders and boards that are currently looking into the abyss of mounting debt and decreased funding and that desire a way back to their golden days of funding, must start by asking the hard questions and be willing to hear the unvarnished answers.  There’s an old saying that goes, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge,” and for ministries in decline, that couldn’t be more true.

A great first step is to open opportunities for those who are, or were, closest to the organization to safely communicate their attitudes and perceptions.  Donor’s who have never returned should also be included in this so that the truth about the things that are holding you back can begin to truly set you free!!!

Spoiled-Rotten; Why Many Donor’s Are Getting Fed-Up With Ministries

Large-dollar donors, especially, can feel left out of God’s calling. After all, they don’t sense a calling to go out and evangelize to the unreached tribes in Africa. They don’t have the gift of preaching. They can feel unfulfilled in trying to teach the bible to others.

Many churches exacerbate this insecurity by speaking only of ministry work in terms of vocational ministry.

Yet, those who support the work of God through their financial resources are as much a part of the Kingdom-work as any. God blesses people differently and uses all of us who follow Him in different ways.

Many wealthy men and women have sacrificed much to build businesses that not only make it possible for them to give large gifts to ministries, but also create jobs, where families can also take part in giving to Kingdom work.

So it is a special calling to those responsible to steward a larger portion of God’s resources. Ministries need to recognize this unique calling and view those who invest in such a way, less as donors and more as partners.

However, overwhelmingly today, ministries take their financial partners for granted. They assume that because the donor understands that their work is “real ministry,” they will be satisfied to continue their support so long as the regular e-newsletter continues to shoot out regularly. After all, if they spend all their time building relationships with donors, when will they have the time to focus on their ministry work?

The thinking that financial partners are valued only for the money they contribute is a mistake. That’s because every gift they give is actually a piece of their heart.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34

Donor sentiment about being obligated to give is changing. A large part of my work is meeting with the financial partners of ministry organizations. In one meeting I had with a financial partner whose annual contributions amounted to more than half of the ministry’s annual budget, they shared the following:

“We want to feel like partners-in-ministry. However, we feel more like we’re in a co-dependent relationship with spoiled children whose only contact with us is when they need more money. Unless we see a change in mind-set among ministries that we value the relationship, our support will continue to diminish in favor of those who do.”

Taking partners for granted can be your ministry’s undoing.

However, it’s never too late to refocus and implement small, but meaningful strategies that help rebuild relationships with your partners.  Start with a simple phone call or handwritten note to do nothing else but say, “thank you!”

Grants: 101

Next to making personal fundraising asks, grant-writing is probably the tactic that scares new fundraisers the most.  Grants seem mysterious and technical, and it often seems as if it takes some kind of magic mojo to find the right grant, write the perfect proposal, and get your project funded.  I’m here to tell you that while there really isn’t any mojo involved in the grant process, there is lots of hard work, and a good bit of frustration.  That being said, most mid- and large-sized ministries find that grants make up 15-25% of their total fundraising revenues.

If you’re really new to fundraising, and aren’t sure which grants to seek and the in’s and out’s of the grant writing process, take heart because it’s not rocket science.

Grants are simply sums of money given by a “grant-maker,” usually a non-profit, corporate, or family foundation.  In order to be awarded the grant, the charity seeking the grant must go through an application process, which is often a long and laborious process. The grant-maker then makes a decision and awards the grant.

Types of Grants

Grants take on an unlimited number of variations, types, and mutations.  Some grants are one-time grants, others are multi-year.  Some grant-makers fund capital projects, others fund growth initiatives, while still others only fund general operating expenses.  Some grants are given on an ongoing, rolling basis, meaning that you can apply at anytime during the year and decisions are made several times per year, while others only decide on proposals once per year, or even once every two or three years.

Types of Grant Applications

Just as the type of grant offered varies from grant-maker to grant-maker, so does the application process.  Some foundations allow you to simply submit an application, which may range from 1 page to 10 pages or more.  Other foundations may ask that you submit a “letter of intent” (LOI) or query letter that summarizes your request, and then, once that letter is submitted, you may or may not be invited to submit a complete grant application.  Other foundations may even require a site visit as part of the process.

Follow the Program

No matter the type of grant or process for application, be sure to follow the directions of the grant-maker exactly.  I often tell charities that writing grants is like applying for the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.  There are lots of hoops to jump through… lots of things to place here, attachments, schedules, financials, signature pages, checklists, etc.  Follow directions to the letter, if you want to have the best chance of having your grant funded.

Research is Key

Perhaps the most important step in raising money through grants comes before the grant proposal / application is even written.  Before you apply for a grant, do some research, and be sure that you meet the foundation’s criteria.  Grant-makers have lots of different areas of specialization, and a single grant-maker may offer three, five, or a dozen different grant programs.  Be sure that your charity and project meet the objectives of the foundation, or else all of your hard work will be for naught.

Most foundations list their criteria on their websites.  Do some research to find out what the foundation’s area of interest is, what programs they offer, when their deadlines are, and what their average grant size is.  There’s no point applying for a grant from an organization specializing in funding dog shelters in southeastern Kentucky if you are running a high school arts program in Maine.  Likewise, if you’re looking for $200,000 to start a new homeless shelter, it will take lots of time and efforts to raise that money if you are applying to foundations with an average grant size of $1,000!

Writing Grants: There is No Secret Formula

Once you’ve found a program that you think you qualify for, it’s time to write the grant proposal.  The truth is that there is no secret formula to writing successful grants.  The only true do-or-die for grant writing is to follow the directions of the foundation offering the grant, and make sure you include all of the information they request.

Some other tips that will help you succeed are to be sure you write in good, crisp, readable language, to make sure you present your proposal in a business-like fashion, and to use emotion… foundation executives receive lots of proposals, so to make sure yours stands out, you’ll need to tug on the heart strings a little bit (but not too much).  Finally, if you have questions, go ahead and pick up the phone and call the foundation to ask.  They won’t bite, and often, calling will help you get a leg up by letting you tailor your proposal exactly to the objectives of the foundation, instead of what you think those objectives are.

Fundamentals of Donor Cultivation

We’ve all heard the old maxim, “it’s easier to raise money from a donor you already have than from a donor you haven’t met yet.” The meaning of this saying is true, and clear: your best donors are your current donors. They’re likely to give to you again and again, so long as you continue to cultivate them.

No matter what school, church, or charity you are fundraising for, you should have a plan in place for cultivating current donors in addition to your work with prospects. The goal of your cultivation system is twofold: first, to encourage your current donors to keep giving, and second, to encourage them to increase their gifts as time goes on, as well as to open up their own fundraising networks on your behalf.

Here are ten ways you can develop your financial partners:

  1. Have a Plan – Does your ministry have a written donor cultivation plan with timelines and concrete goals? If not, you should. Your donor cultivation plan may be its own document, or could be a part of your overall fundraising plan.
  2. Find the Right Database – A good donor database is crucial in successful donor cultivation. Yours should be able to track donor contacts (or “touches”) as well as allow you to set reminders for future action.
  3. Stay in Touch – The best way to make donors feel like a real part of your team is by staying in touch with them on a regular basis. Remember, most communications should not be asks – keep your donors updated and excited about your organization so that when the time comes to make an ask, they are ready to give.
  4. Use All Mediums – Unless your donor tells you otherwise, stay in touch with him or her through all available mediums: online and off, phone calls, events, emails, printed newsletters, annual appeals, social networking, and more.
  5. But Don’t Overdo It! – Most donors dislike being bombarded by the charities they support, so make sure you’re not overdoing it with the newsletters and updates.
  6. Have a Clearly Defined Path for Each Class of Donor – Your goal in working with donors should be to move them along a clearly defined path of asks, drawing them ever closer to your organization as they make larger and larger gifts. Stratify your donors by likely donation sizes (something as simple as Low, Mid, and High might work) and have a cultivation plan for each level of donor.
  7. Start Donor Groups – Donor groups work for all levels of donors, and make your supporters feel like part of the team. Start some this year!
  8. Tie in Volunteer Opportunities – One of the best ways to cultivate donors and connect them to your mission is by giving them opportunities to work alongside your staff in a volunteer capacity. Even if your ministry doesn’t have “natural” volunteer opportunities because of the work you do, there’s always a way to get volunteers involved, even if it’s only with an envelope stuffing party for your next big event.
  9. Answer Questions – The closer a donor feels to your organization, the more comfortable they are going to feel calling (or e-mailing) your staff with questions and suggestions. If at all possible, have a staff member answer every single question and suggestion from donors, even if it is only to say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll look into it for you.”
  10. Be Donor-Centered – Remember, without your donors, your ministry wouldn’t exist. Treat your donors like the integral part of your organization that they are, and they will stay loyal to you and your mission.

Maintaining Donor Relationships

Donor cultivation is part art, part science. At its most basic, donor cultivation (and prospect cultivation, for that matter), centers on communication: staying in touch with your donors and prospects to build a relationship of trust and mutual interest.

Big gifts, small gifts, recurring gifts, bequests… they rarely just “happen.” Most are the result of an ongoing process of cultivation and dialogue. Here, in no particular order, are eight great ways for your to stay in touch with your donors through the course of the year. For best results, mix and match based on your ’s unique needs and goals.

  1. E-Mail Newsletters

E-mail newsletters are cheap, fast, and non-intrusive, making them one of the best ways to stay in touch with your donor base and prospect pool. How often should you send them? At a minimum, quarterly. Once per week is probably the most you can send before they start to wear thin on the recipients.

  1. Snail Mail Newsletters, Letters, and Magazines

These are more expensive than e-mail newsletters, but often seem more “real” to your donors. If you are a small , start by sending update letters to your list twice annually. As you grow, you can add newsletters, and eventually even a magazine to your repertoire.

  1. Your Website

Think of your organization’s website as a constantly updated and evolving brochure for your . Keep it updated and engaging, so that donors will want to check it frequently to see how you are using their gifts for maximum impact.

  1. Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites can provide a vital space for two-way dialogue with your donors. Get online and get active in the social media spaces where your donors and target prospects congregate.

  1. Cultivation Events

Non-ask events (where you don’t ask for money directly) can be a great way to build your reputation and get new people involved in your efforts. Put together a great host committee and task them with getting “new blood” through the door to hear about your efforts. You can also use these events to keep your current donors engaged and connected with your organization.

  1. Public Relations / PR

You may not think of PR as a strategy for communicating with your donors and prospects, but it is. Donors love to open up the paper and unexpectedly find a story about a they have been supporting. You can also use press clips as a way to validate your work to donors and prospects.

  1. Phone Calls

Have you called your donors just to say “thanks?” This strategy doesn’t work for all demographics, but for many donors, receiving a call from a board member or staff person, who gives them a quick update and says, “it’s all thanks to you… thank you for your support!” is a real motivator. Can your organization run a “thank-a-thon” to make these calls once per year?

  1. In-Person Visits

Once the exclusive purview of large universities and hospitals, in-person visits to major (and even mid-level donors) are now successfully employed by many diverse organizations. This is the most personal and intimate of all cultivation methods, and requires a well-trained staff.

What methods are you using to cultivate your donors and prospects? All, none, or a mix of the above? Are there any methods you are successfully using that we haven’t listed here?

The Delusion of Foundation Gifts

The loudest kind of gift in fundraising is the “grant.” Ministries can shout from the highest rooftops about grant funding, donations that average from ten to twenty-five thousand dollars, because the foundations appreciate the attention. There certainly are big grants to be realized for organizations in the religious sector (according to the Foundation Center 2012 Report), the average gift is $90K, the median $20K.   When ministry leaders read about “that other organization” that benefitted greatly through a certain foundation’s gift it’s especially tempting when the organization is struggling to raise funds.

However, seeking grants is a cruel mirage to naive and unfocused ministry leaders. Following are the top seven myths about foundation grants that trap unsuspecting ministry leaders and boards.

  1. Foundation’s give more than individuals. Not true! In fact, just 14% of all giving in the US comes from foundation grants, while 73% of gifts come from individuals, according to the 2012 Giving USA report.
  2. Unlimited opportunity. While, there are more than one hundred-twenty thousand foundations in the United States, according to The Foundation Center 2012, just 2% of all grants are made to the religious sector. The rest of the grants are given to education (23%), health (21%), human services (15%), public affairs (12%), arts & culture (11%), the environment & animals (6%), and the sciences & technology (4%). This means that, 98% of them will not fund your ministry. Out of that 2%, there are probably less than ten viable prospective foundations that will grant large dollars ($50K+) to ministries like yours.   Keep in mind too that their first gift will likely be a small one to test how well you steward the gift and how well you follow up. Most foundations will give a maximum of 20% of your overall need to a project or opportunity. They want to be assured that they are giving to ministries that are well managed and financially supported by other engaged-givers.
  3. It’s easier than donor development to individuals. Wrong! Instead of working to convince just one person or couple, large-dollar foundation grants are usually decided by many people including an administrator, and a board or committee. Like individual development, successfully securing foundation grants is about building relationships, except there are a lot more people in the equation. This is why it’s so important to connect with a member of a foundation’s board and get to know the administrator so that you can learn what it really takes to be a qualified candidate. More than that, your ministry will have a far greater chance to win a grant if you have an “insider” that is championing your requests.
  4. We can hire a “grant-writer” to do all of the work. (This sounds just like ministries that hire a development director to raise all the money…and how’s that working for you!?!) Yes, part of this statement is very true. A grant writer is an invaluable resource in this process. They can help you avoid many of the most common mistakes as well as help you to steer clear of those grant opportunities where you have little chance. However, no grant writer knows your organization like you do which is why you need to plan to invest a great deal of time working with them. So if you hire one, and the better ones are not cheap, plan for a long-term relationship (5 years minimum). The upfront time commitment to get them up-to-speed is lengthy, but after five or six grant requests, they will be able to work more independently. Understand that your success rate, when compared to other qualified applicants without insider relationships, will be no better, so expect to be turned down often.
  5. Great ROI (Return On Investment). Many believe that the time it takes to apply for grants is relatively small, especially when there is a chance to bring-in a large gift. Most believe that even if they apply for twenty grants and just one actually win’s funding, it can be seen as a victory. But the reality is that ministries that take this approach spend more than 40% of their “development” energies that end-up raising less than 5% of their budgeted income.
  6. It’s easy. The average number of attempts before successfully getting a grant is 8! 45% of grant applications are rejected because the applicant didn’t fill in the required information, or did so improperly. Of those that get through, 50% are rejected because the foundation does not fund the kind of organization or specific kind of need, or does not fall within a certain geographic boundary. Of those that get through that process, 80% are rejected because no one on the foundation’s board knows anyone affiliated with the applicant’s organization. (source. Foundation Directory Report 2012)

I don’t write this to dissuade any ministry from applying for foundation grants but as a way to punctuate the point that doing so should be a part of, not substitute for, a broadly balanced approached to raising ministry partners.

There is no magic bullet in raising large-dollar gifts, especially when it comes to foundation grants.

Conversely, gifts from individuals, even when they are significantly larger donations, are usually quiet. Those who give to ministry work are often giving as an act of worship. They practice the Matthew 6 Principle in that they try not to demonstrate their righteousness before men.

4 Fundamental’s to Develop Large-Dollar Partners

Developing major partners is about building relationships.  From the online giver who makes a $15 gift to your organization, to the partner who gives $1 million to your capital campaign – in some way, you have built a relationship with each, which was key to their gift.

Partners at every level value relationships and none more so than high-capacity individuals.  Because they can make a significant investment to your organization, major donor prospects want to feel that they have a strong relationship with your ministry prior to making a financial commitment.  Following are four fundamental’s to building a strong and sustainable relationship with prospective major donor:

  1. Stand Out

High-net-worth individuals usually have lots of people clamoring for their attention, regardless if they have a propensity for giving. Family, business, and church relationships alone are enough to fill every waking hour. Add to that the not-for-profit organizations (faith based or not) seeking support, and the noise to gain attention can seem insurmountable. But without their attention, your ministry will have a hard time building any kind of relationship.

That’s why you find an advocate from within your ministry organization (board or other partner) to make the introduction and spearhead the relationship cultivation.

You can try and entice him or her to attend an event, releasing a major report or holding a note-worthy seminar or hosting an important speaker, launching a campaign in a program area that matches the prospect’s heart for giving… the possibilities are (nearly) endless, but no matter what you choose to do, you have to get the their attention before he or she will be able to focus on your ministry.

  1. Focus on Relationship, NOT Money

Once you get the donor’s attention, you need to cultivate the prospect and build the relationship between him/her and your organization, before you make any kind of opportunity available to them.  Rush this process and you will have little hope of gaining a donor, much less a partner.

Ask them for advice and suggestions and try to involve him or her in volunteer work or allow them to see the work of the ministry first-hane.  Make them a part of your team.

  1. Explain the Investment

Prior to making an opportunity available to give be sure to explain the investment you are asking them to make.  They want to invest in Kingdom work that will deliver the best outcomes for the largest number of people in areas that match their heart for giving.

Through your cultivation process, you should know their heart for giving and what opportunities will be most important to them.  Explain to him or her exactly what your plans for the future are, what you are hoping to raise, and why you need the money.  What outcomes are you predicting and how you measure results?  How many people will you serve?  What is the return on this major Kingdom investment?

  1. People Give from their Heart

No matter how great an investment your ministry opportunity may seem, major partners still give primarily to organizations they feel an emotional connection with.  Thus, the best way to raise large-dollar gifts is to present your organization as both an emotionally compelling, mission-driven, and Kingdom focused organization as well as a wise investment.  A heart connection is essential, all others being equal.

Tell stories.  Get him or her to come out to your program sites.  Make the prospect feel emotionally connected to your work.  If you can do that, you are well on your way to developing them as long-term partners of your ministry.

A Couple of Ways to Raise More Money at an Event

Your ministry is holding a fundraising event.  It takes time.  It costs money.  You need to raise as much as you can to support your organization’s mission.  What’s a ministry to do?

Focus on the 20% that matters.

We’ve all heard of the 80/20 principle – the idea that 20% of your efforts result in 80% of your successes, and vice-versa.  This rule holds up for fundraising, and for fundraising events.  If you want to raise more at your next event, you need to focus on the 20% of your event fundraising tactics that will result in 80% of your revenues.  Today, I want to talk a little about the simplest of all strategies: focusing your time and energy on what matters most for your event.

Event Focus #1: Sponsorships

When your organization is planning its revenue streams for your fundraising events, where do you focus most of your energy?  If you are spending most of your time trying to figure out how to sell more tickets or how to find more silent auction items, you’re missing the largest prospective source of revenue for your event: sponsorships.

Smart ministrys raise 60-80% of their event revenue from sponsorships, and fill-in the rest with ticket sales and add-ons, like auctions and raffles.  Sponsors provide more bang for your buck, and more possibilities for your limited fundraising time.

I’d rather find one $10,000 sponsor and have to give away 100 $50 tickets to fill the room than sell those tickets at the expense of finding sponsors.  Start your efforts to find sponsors as early as possible, and worry about filling the room after all of your sponsorships have been sold.

Event Committee

Your event committee (sometimes called your “host committee”) is a prime example of the 80-20 rule.

Every host committee I have ever been involved with has resulted in 20% of the committee  raising 80% of the money for the committee as a whole.  If you have 20 people on your committee, chances are that around 4-5 of the members are the ones who are really driving the fundraising by selling sponsorships and tickets.

If you are running the same event year in, year out, capitalize on this fact by constantly (but subtly) dropping the lowest-producing 10% from your committee (perhaps by putting them on a “volunteer committee” that doesn’t do much of anything but also doesn’t take up much time for your staff) and constantly adding top new prospects to the event committee.

Do this year after year, and before you know it, you’ll have a committee full of doers, and be raising far more for your event than you previously thought possible.

Secrets of Great Event Host Committees

As important as great headliners, nice venues and strong ticket sales are to events, the number one mistake that ministries make when planning a fundraising event is the failure to form a strong event committee (sometimes called the “host committee”).  Event committees can make or break an event.

What Does an Event Committee Do?

First, understand that when I talk about an event committee, I am not necessarily talking about a committee that does the actual work of planning, setting up, breaking down, and working the event.  You may decide to have a committee like that, or to make the people that handle the logistics part of your overall event committee, but that is not what I mean when I say that a great event committee can make or break an event.

What I am talking about, instead, is a committee whose primary responsibility is to raise money for the event by selling sponsorships and tickets (as well as doing things like finding items to sell if this is a silent auction event, etc.).  The event committee is a fundraising committee, and putting the right one in place is extremely important.

Why is an Event Committee Important?

Let’s face it, events are hard work.  If you want to raise a ton of money at your next event, you’re going to need help, even if you have a large staff or dedicated group of volunteers.  You’re going to need people who feel like they are part of your team, who commit to helping you raise money for the event, and who get their friends, neighbors, colleagues, vendors, clients, and associates involved in your event.

Your event committee is at the center of an event fundraising network… the members of the committee should be expected to open up their own networks and Rolodexes to the ministry for the purposes of the event.

Who Should Be On Your Event Committee?

Anyone who supports your mission, is willing to fundraise, and has a good-sized network that they are willing to open up to your organization.  Ideally, your event committee will include a chairperson who is super-supportive of your organization and who has a massive network, as well as 5-25 (or more) of your donors and supporters who are ready to raise money for the event.

How Do You Get People to Join Your Event Committee?

You ask!  Seriously, in order to get people on your committee, you’ll need to treat this like any other fundraising ask… look at your donor list to see who might be a good candidate.  Call or meet with each of these people to tell them about the event, why the event is important, and what is expected of event committee members.  Then ask them to join.

What Should Your Event Committee Do?

Fundraise!  Make sure that everyone on your event committee knows that their primary goal is to fundraise for the event.  Sure, you want their advice on the event itself, and welcome their good ideas, but you also need help raising money.

Be sure to tell your committee what the ultimate fundraising goal is for your event, and how you expect that goal to be met.  For example, you may say that the goal for your fundraising barbeque is to raise $5,000 for your organization.  Of that, you expect $1,500 to come from sponsorships, $1,500 to come from ticket sales for the event, and $2,000 to come from the silent auction at the event.

Once you tell your committee what your goal is, be sure to give them the tools that they need to reach that goal.  They should have all of the collateral materials, tickets, event invitations, sample scripts, and everything they need to help you raise money.

You should also track the work of the committee, whenever possible.  Ask who they are approaching, track how many tickets each member sells, etc.  I also suggest you hold regular meetings of the whole committee to talk strategy, check on progress, and offer thanks, praise, and advice.  If your committee is a particularly large one, you can also consider breaking the committee down into smaller sub-committees, with each holding its own meetings and focusing on different areas of the event.

How Should You Recognize Your Event Committee?

It’s very important to recognize the hard work of your event committee, and to let them know just how crucial their role is in your event’s overall success.  In addition to your written and spoken words of thanks, you can consider doing things like putting their names on the event invitations, thanking them as part of the event program, offering them special lapel pins or a number of free tickets for the event, etc.

An Important Note about Event Committees

No matter how great your event committee is, never rely on them 100%.  Once, I watched as a ministry (against my advice) relied entirely on its event committee to fundraise for an event.  The staff handled the event hall, catering, and invitation printing, but the event committee, led by the event chair, was supposedly handling all of the sponsorship and ticket sales. Three weeks before the event, the Executive Director of the organization finally realized his mistake, when he found out that only $1,500 in sponsorships had been sold (against a $10,000 sponsorship goal).  Thankfully, the staff took over ticket sales, and by working the phones and holding a coordinated series of meetings with large corporate donors, the team was able to sell out the event and beat the ticket sales goal, which partially made up for the sponsorship debacle.

You want (and need) to put together a phenomenal event committee for your next affair.  You want them to set big goals and raise a lot of money.  But your staff should also be working on the event by contacting your donors and selling sponsorships, as well as tracking the progress of the committee.

Create Events That Raise More Money

I’m not a big fan of large events that are intended to raise money. That’s because they are often costly, time-consuming, and over time become stale for all involved.  More importantly, the financial return is often far less than all that investment of staff time and ministry money. If your staff dreads your “big event” or is exhausted from the number of events, then something’s got to change and if an event is an absolute necessity, then here are some tips to help make it pay off.

Count the Cost and Be Honest:

  1. It has the potential to attract a different demographic from your typical financial supporters, like younger prospective givers.
  2. It does not add yet another obligation to partners who already give to you in multiple ways, avoiding the risk of over-solicitation, which can make them stop giving entirely.
  3. It does not run the risk of “downgrading” gifts from your current large-dollar contributors. For example, if a donor attends your event for a ticket price of $100 and gives another $1,000 at the event, will they say they’ve already given when you approach them later in the year for a $10,000 gift, which prospect research tells you they are capable of giving?
  4. It genuinely affords volunteers an opportunity to be involved in a rewarding fundraising experience. By rewarding, I mean that it helps galvanize their love for one another and builds their confidence which, in turn, makes them willing to get involved in more demanding ways, like opening doors with new prospective financial partners.
  5. The event has the potential for long-term sustainability. No event remains popular forever, but an event done once and never again is a waste of time, resources and volunteer goodwill.
  6. The event is not weather-dependent or extraordinarily high risk in some other way. If it is weather-dependent, there is a Plan B that can be quickly moved into place.
  7. The not-for-profit is not dependent upon the profit from this event the first time it is run. This requires a very strategic Board to take this into account. Usually, the reason why an untried event is on the table for discussion is that there is an anticipated shortfall. A first-time event should have a budget and the Board should be willing to lose money in order to test the concept for its appeal and future ability to earn ever-increasing NET revenue.

Give people a reason to come back to your fundraising event!  I’ve found that executive directors can become too caught up in the plea for help and forget to think about growing their fundraisers each year.  Here are a few “keys to growth” that should be a part of all of your fundraising events:

  • Make it enjoyable – Anyone who takes a few hours out of their evening to learn about your ministry had better find it enjoyable.  A boring speaker or a never-ending “hard sell” all night long is a great way to lose attendance the following year. What’s more, who would want to invite their friends to that again?
  • Food Better be Good – I understand why struggling ministries want to cut corners on food cost.  Hosting a dinner in the church fellowship hall and letting your volunteers serve spaghetti is a great way to raise money for the youth mission trip.  But if the food is bad, no one (except relatives) will want to come back next year.  However, when you get the hotel or country club ballroom donated and the food is exceptional, you will see growth.  And yes, I know that paying $25-$35 per head for food cuts into the bottom line.  But from my experience, you’ll see growth in attendance and giving over the years if you go the nicer route.  Besides, your wealthiest donors expect to eat well when they attend an event.  So make sure they do.
  • Build a Great Reputation – I think fundraisers should be one of the best experience an attendee has all year.  Which means you need some element that gets everyone talking about it.  Be known for the surprise guest, the celebrity appearance, the hilarious monologue, the great hands-on activity, the best parting gifts, the fun photo opp, etc.
  • Avoid Guilt – Guilt only motivates people to give one time.  They feel trapped and pressured to give, so they cut a check.  However, after a person gives from guilt, they run away.  They don’t want to be reminded of that feeling so they won’t return to your fundraiser or greet you on the street.  Instead of guilt, allow the power of the opportunity to pave the way for long-term giving.  I’d rather have a donor who gives $35 per month for life than one who throws me $100 one time out of guilt.
  • Follow Up – Everyone wants to feel appreciated.  Take time to have someone call or connect in some way with everyone who attended your fundraiser.  Everyone should get a note / thank you and everyone should get at least a call.  Otherwise, the next time they hear from you, you’re asking them to do you another favor.  And that’s not cool.