How to Screw Up Your Fundraising – Easy Steps to Financial Ruin

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9946635_sCould the greatest challenges to fundraising success be coming from INSIDE your organization?

The nonprofit world has been abuzz recently about a disturbing report detailing many internal challenges facing many nonprofit fundraising programs.

The report examined what we might call “pre-conditions” for fundraising success – what needs to be in place in order to achieve successful, sustainable fundraising results.

The study revealed that many nonprofits are stuck in a “vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed.”

And it’s all self-inflicted from the inside!

The institutional and strategic support for philanthropy and fundraising is just often missing.

Organizational leaders say they want big time fundraising results but they don’t want to take time to understand what it takes  — or spend money to make it happen.

You really need to check it out! CompassPoint: “Underdeveloped: Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising Today.”  Share it with your board and leaders – and then ask innocently – “what are your impressions of these ideas?”  You might just create a helpful discussion!

What’s Really Going On Inside Many Fundraising Programs

Here are some of the report’s findings:

  • Organizational leaders often expect their development directors to be magicians who can instantly make money appear (without help from leadership.)
  • Leaders are often reluctant to invest in the systems, technologies and staff that will create a sustainable fundraising program.
  • Fund development and philanthropy are not understood or valued across the organization.
  • 23% of nonprofits say they have no fundraising plan.
  • One in three executives are lukewarm or dissatisfied with the performance of their fundraising staff.
  • Only 9% of those surveyed said their organization had sufficient capacity to achieve fundraising goals.
  • 43% of development directors characterized their own fundraising program as “not at all” or only “somewhat” effective.  (Executives and boards think their fundraising is more effective than the staff thinks it is.)
  • 3 our of 4 executives say board member engagement in fundraising is insufficient. (I can help with this as you know!)
  • Half of development directors are planning to leave their current jobs in 2 years or less.
  • One in four nonprofit executives report that they lack the skills and knowledge to secure gifts.
  • Executives and development directors disagree about whether their organizations have a supportive culture for fundraising.
  • Less than half of development directors said they had a strong relationship with their executive director. (Executive directors typically say the relationship is stronger than the staff says it is.)
  • Nearly one third of development directors in this study reported that they have been charged with unrealistic performance goals.

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 Recipe to Quickly Screw Up Your Fundraising

Based on the research data in this article, and on my own experience, I humbly offer this recipe to create a fundraising effort that won’t succeed.

Here’s how to demoralize the staff, distract them from agreed-upon goals and plans, and undercut your fundraising in every way.

  • Expect the fundraising team to produce miracles. (without investment, systems, and help.)
  • Take a “hands-off” approach to fundraising. (it’s dirty work and it’s somebody else’s job.)
  • Set a fundraising goal for your team, and then run like hell.  (don’t help out. “We are NOT all in this together.”)
  • Make sure that everybody else in the organization don’t understand, value or support fundraising.
  • Distract your FR team with additional projects and responsibilities, but keep their dollar goals unchanged.  (and watch staff burn out and results go down.)
  • Cut your fundraising staff but still expect them to exceed last year’s results. (and watch your staff start to turn over.)
  • Say “we can’t afford it” when considering a fundraising project that will bring in far more than it costs. (and watch your organization never grow beyond its current scope.)
  • Consider fundraising expenses as a black hole of costs rather than as investments that pay for themselves quickly – (with a nice multiple return, no less!)
  • Don’t invest in fundraising capacity, technologies and other fund development systems needed to support fundraising. (and watch your FR results decline.)
  • Have an Executive Director who dislikes fundraising and refuses to serve as an ambassador or solicitor. (and watch your development director lose her optimism.)
  • Isolate your staff into “silos” with fundraising cut off from marketing, PR and other communications. (and watch your communications undercut your fundraising effort).
  • Keep your development director away from the organizational planning and strategy process. (and watch your fundraising effort become disempowered and isolated.)
  • Cut your fundraising staff and budget because of $ shortfalls. (and watch your revenue shrink slowly and surely.)
  • Hire a novice with limited experience and expect her to deliver terrific fundraising results quickly.   (and watch sometimes shaky fundraising results.)  26% of development directors overall—and 38% among the smallest nonprofits— have no experience or are novice.
  • Allow the FR position to remain open for months at a time. (and watch your donors drift away because no one is keeping them connected to your org.)
  • Let people who don’t understand fundraising make decisions about strategies, messaging and investments.  (and watch those decisions bring in failure.)
  • Don’t insist on a carefully thought out fundraising plan that everybody agrees on and supports.  (More than one in five nonprofits (23%)—and 31% of organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million—have no fundraising plan in place.)
  • Downplay board members’ fundraising responsibilities.  (Three out of four executive directors (75%)—and 82% of executives among organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million—call board member engagement insufficient. )
  • Set unrealistic FR expectations, while “poor-mouthing” fundraising. (we all know the results of this!)

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And You Said About This:

And just for fun, here are direct quotes from my Fundraising INSIDERS and my recent survey of your biggest concerns.

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  • “High fundraising goals set by VP, these goals are more than double what we raise annually, and we lack a funding priority.
  • “Got an unsolicited $25k gift and the ED won’t make a phone call to follow-up!
  • “Every time we are in a financial crisis, they cut the areas that make money for them.
  • “Saddle the FR team with more projects, events and still expect them to do all the other stuff too.
  • “Micromanage your fundraiser and bring the program to a screeching halt.


Leave a comment and let’s start a provocative discussion!