Improve Your Fundraising Focus

Posted by admin on Aug 10, 2018 7:32:08 AM

Let's think about how we might improve our fundraising focus. Our concentration will be on growing the person, shifting the focus, managing the processes, and leading the organization from the heart and head.

We'll go about this first by thinking about the value of understanding our nonprofit practice, followed by touch points about how to develop aspects of our understanding on a daily basis. We'll close with making a commitment to doing something different. Grab a pen and piece of paper and we'll focus on good fundraising practice that raises large gifts for our organizations!

I presume you're reading this article because you want to learn about improving your focus. That is marvelous, because, as a pundit once said, "The height of folly is to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result." For us, doing something differently might mean doing the hard thing, the right thing or changing ourselves to serve the organization’s mission more effectively. (I think we can agree, also, that every fundraising appeal we write is balanced between reason and emotion. I would suggest that the same balance is in play as we go through each work day.)

I am going to ask you in a minute to write down the name of one of your favorite donors. First, let me tell you about one of mine, Joe. I've not known him long, but I've gotten to know him well. His wife died shortly before we met, and so I visited him to talk about her, about his days as a real estate appraiser and buyer for the railroads that were so prevalent in Chattanooga, and about my not-for-profit organization. In his mid-80s, he's sharp, has an easy smile and wry humor. That is all the more remarkable because he is suffering from kidney failure and goes to dialysis treatments three times a week. And, he just got married again!

That's my Joe. Who is your special donor? Write that name down - someone you either have gotten to know, or would like to get to know better - and list several of his or her attributes.

Keep an image of your donor in your mind and think about all of the activities that engage us every day. In fundraising practice, we have two distinct types of work which I have dubbed technical and relational:

Sorting an Excel spreadsheet would be a technical task, as would writing or editing a newsletter, working on the budget, making favors for a volunteer luncheon. I'm sure you could list many more.

Now let's turn to the relational, that which builds relationships. Some relational activities that we practice include visiting donors and prospects, hand writing thank you notes, phoning constituents too far away to visit readily, and so forth.

I think of our daily work as being on a continuum. We slide back and forth, hour by hour, from working on technical aspects to relational, to some of both. As fund development officers, I think that we recognize the way to get the large charitable gifts that will change the future of our organizations is through building relationships. The relationships lead to trust, to confidence in us and our mission. So then, we seek a balance between what needs to get done (technical) and what we want to do (relational).

I want us to think of the technical as that part of work that more involves "reason," and the relational as that part that more closely relates to "emotion."

We earlier identified tasks that are technical, that call for thinking and decision-making processes. We also listed relational activities. I hear many development people talk about the difficulty of getting out to see donors. Many shops are small, so there are lots of tasks that prevent us from being able to get out and about such as recording gifts, receipting, getting events organized, writing and sending appeals, writing the newsletter, et cetera. All are important to the life and health of the organization, but are not generally responsible for raising major gifts from donors and prospects, especially in capital campaigns.

Go back to your worksheet with your donor’s name and attributes. Write a sliding scale from 5 to 1 across the page. (Label the 5 as highly relational; the 1 as highly technical.) How do you rate yourself in your practice? Be honest, be fair. Do you have a balance between relational and technical, so you're a 3? Are you caught in a technical trap of 1 or 2, getting lots of seat time, making phone calls instead of visiting nearby donors? Or are you doing lunches and networking with your board members and donors as a 4 or 5 would? Circle a number.

Now, what are you going to do with this information? How can you transition your fundraising practices to focus more heavily on relational activity which drives the momentum of your campaign? You likely didn't read this article with change in mind, but I cannot finish without challenging you.

  • The first question is, how would you like to rate your practice on the continuum? You just made a judgment about where you rank now-do you want to change? If so, go back to the scale and double-circle the number you'll strive to achieve.
  • What are you going to do differently when you get back to the shop? Write down some action steps, just two or three to start. What can you do, very specifically, to improve relational efforts in your practice?
  • Finally, what impediments do you see, and how can you overcome them? Are you having problems delegating? Do you need to hire more staff? Should you make decisions about priorities and tell people you won't deal with low priorities until you get through the high priorities? Are you continuing to do something relatively unproductive? Peter Drucker says that the hardest thing for an organization to is to stop doing something.

Periodic reviews of the work we do can be healthy for us as fundraising practitioners. I believe that highly effective leaders have broken the back of the urgent and work mostly on the important - in my terminology, working primarily in the relational arena and giving low priority to the technical aspects. When you place your focus on creating and building personal relationships with prospects and donors, you'll be a more effective and productive fundraiser.

My first action step will be to take my donor friend, Joe, to lunch. I know that we'll have a great time together, and that I'll be building a deeper relationship. Take your special donor to lunch today; you'll enjoy it!

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Campaign Feasibility and Planning Studies, Capital Campaigns, donor relationships, fundraising focus, Fundraising Principles, professional development, Professional Skill Building

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