Fundraising: People First, Dollars Next

Tripler Army Medical CenterÕs Sgt. Jessica Houfek and Spc. Christopher Monteith lay down a special white coating on a Moanalua Elementary School portable classroom to help keep the classroom cool, June 13, 209. Along with 21 other TAMC Soldiers and family members, they volunteered their morning to provide sweat, elbow equity and camaraderie to cool down a total of five classrooms and to install two playball basket shoot equipment, as part of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii's Partnership of Ohana program.
Photo by familymwr

Fall! For most nonprofits it’s like someone shot off a gun for the fundraising and dollars race that keeps going all the way until, oh, Valentine’s Day. So without further ado, here are the things that cannot be overemphasized if you’re going to develop a real relationship with supporters, and have a successful fundraising campaign.

It’s a Relationship, Not a Transaction

Yes, you want them to support you, but think about it. Are you more likely to support someone repeatedly if they talk to you no more than once or twice a year and just to ask for money? Your supporters are your community first. Everything else comes next. Talk to them often, especially when they’re not giving you something, and reach them on their terms–which isn’t hard to do in the age of social media. You just have to do it.

Reach People Where They Are, Not Where You Want Them To Be

Social media is the bane of many a communications and fundraising departments. For the consumer and community, there’s lots of ways to engage. For staffers at lean nonprofits, it’s more like “Oh geez, more avenues I don’t have time or people to cover!” Enter good writers, a serious assessment of where your community gets its news, and a staunch strategy that makes sense for you.

Make the Story Count

You see this all the time, you hear it all the time, but I can’t stress this enough. There’s a reason why you’ll see faces and stories of real people. Because unless you can tell a story that happens to half the planet, it’s easier to identify with an individual–whose problems seem solvable–rather than a huge group of people, whose needs seemingly outstrip our ability to make a difference as a single donor. So, yeah, tell me a story. But not just any story. Tell me the right story, the one that really resonates.

Talk to Me, Not to a “Dear Friend”

If I’m a supporter you value, and your barrage of emails hasn’t made me unsubscribe, then at minimum–in this age of no online privacy, TMI, and information overload–you need to know who I am. In fact, if the previous points haven’t already made crystal clear, you need to know your community. It’s the key to your organization’s support, structure, and growth.

Put Your House In Order

Figuring out internal processes is sort of an organizational basic, but one that falls through the cracks. Particularly if your organization is in that sweet spot of growth where you’re bigger than you used to be, but your staffing and office routines don’t quite match yet. Get an outsider, someone with more perspective than you have by this point, to mentally walk through a supporter’s journey from start to finish. When a supporter takes an action, how does it filter through? Who responds, how fast, and in what way? And this leads to…

Thank Supporters (On Time)!

Far too many companies–non- and for-profit–wait too long to send a basic acknowledgement and thank you to supporters. This is partly because internal processes are still unclear, and partly lack of staff. It is entirely unacceptable.

The End Lies In the Beginning

It’s a relationship. Not a transaction. I started with this, and I’m ending with it. Because the end lies in the beginning. Give your community ways to be connected and have a stake in your success. Give them ways to contribute when money isn’t an option–through volunteering, in-kind donations, leveraging their own networks, and sweat equity.

Because fundraising really is about a relationship, a series of conversations between humans, for the greater good. Dollars are just one outcome.