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Fundraising 101: Sticking to the Plan

Resource Center - Foundation

(Jan. 18, 2011) Sometimes the only thing separating a speeding fundraising train from a derailed mess is a plan. Here are some tips on laying solid tracks now so that you successfully reach the station in December.

The familiar scene: It's Nov. 5th and a well-meaning member of your board proclaims, "We need to boost our revenue, let's hold a special New Year gala!" How would you respond? According to fundraisers Cindy Adams, CFRE, and Rahim Balsara, MBA, if you set your priorities now, you won't get this question at the end of the year. And if you do, you'll have an answer.

Adams and Balsara, who will present a session at the AFP International Conference in Chicago in March on the topic of Meeting Your Fundraising Goals, explain that in order to stay on track you need to look at the bottom line: What fundraising methods have worked best for your organization? Those high revenue generating methods are your priorities.

The good news is that reaching top speed in your fundraising can be boiled down to a simple formula: Priorities - Distractions = Peak Performance.

"When someone is new to the field of fundraising, most of the time the challenge is that they can't differentiate between priorities and distractions," says Adams. Your first step is to identify distractions by asking the right questions.

Setting Priorities

The big question is this: Does your development plan make business sense? "One of the buzzwords out there is ROI," explains Balsara. "But does that stand for ‘really optimistic individual' or ‘return on investment?' After all, positive thinking is powerful, but it is not a strategy.

The key is to review and document all sources of revenue in the organization. Doing so will lead you to using strong data versus ‘I think' anecdotal information. "Sometimes you think you are making a lot from a special event--yet in reality you are not getting significant net return," Adams explains. Maximize your efforts by making high-yield methods your priority. The rest are simply distractions.

Another way to prioritize is to determine what aspects of fundraising you should do on your own and what aspects could best be carried out by an outside firm. It's okay to give up ownership, for example, of writing copy or designing a direct mail/response campaign if the majority of your fundraising background is in major gifts. Remember to play to your strengths as a fundraiser the same as you have developed a plan that plays to your organization's fundraising strengths.

Avoiding Distractions

Fundraising distractions come in many sizes and shapes. You may have a newly hired CEO who wants to change your plan based on what has worked for other organizations she has seen. You may have an anxious board member who wants to get quick results and sees a special event as the perfect opportunity (even if events haven't proved successful for your organization in the past). No matter the distraction, you will be able to stand your ground if you have done your homework and are able to speak in quantitative terms about what has worked in the past. You may still need to be flexible, but you won't be swept completely off course if you are prepared.

Finally, continuous monitoring of the plan is critical, say Adams and Balsara.  Be honest and don't ignore the data.  Even if there is an event or campaign that is your personal favorite, if the data shows it's not viable, adjust.

Focus on priorities, stand firm against distractions and you'll find the zone of peak performance.

Cindy Adams, CFRE, and Rahim Balsara, MBA, are principals of Adams & Balsara Group. Learn more by attending "Meeting Fundraising Goals: Where Do You Begin?" at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising, taking place March 20-22, 2011 in Chicago, Ill. 

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