We found a cozy little table in the corner of the food hall and, with delectable treats in hand, dove right into the challenges and questions we had for one another. All three “Charity Chats” attendees were working for organizations with limited resources. And each one of them was responsible for overseeing all of the fundraising initiatives of the development department. In other words, they were one woman shows.
Among the introductions, shared work history, and connecting the dots of people we knew, we chatted about a variety of topics!
Fundraising With a Staff of One
The big question was “what do I tackle first?” For one attendee new in her role, it was important for her to connect with existing donors through mission-driven communications, which, surprisingly, had never been done before. She found herself working on vision statements and materials that get to the core of the organization’s work and help provide clarity to their supporters.
For another, the priority was focused on renewing the large pool of lapsed donors and stewarding existing donors. She sends a lot of handwritten notes. “So. Many. Notes.,” she said.
The third is focusing on a shared or combined campaign effort to benefit the regional chapters across the state. Each one has their own fundraising strategies and community support, which presents a challenge for uniting the overall, statewide mission. Through inclusive campaigns with consistent branding and tactics, she hopes to boost the visibility of the organization as a whole and increase results.
Direct Mail Acquisition
Two of the organizations send direct mail to their donors and lapsed audiences but both had terrible experiences with buying prospecting lists from local vendors. With one list that had 7,000 names, over 1,000 were deceased! And the lists did not perform well.
I shared that our organization works with a well-established vendor that we’ve used for years. We send two annual acquisition mailings and the list is comprised of a number of sources that have been carefully evaluated. Typically, the best performing lists are co-ops in which names are pooled together based giving similarities. Some lists have a higher average gift with lower return rates, while others have higher return rates with lower average gifts. It’s good to have a mix of both.
While acquisition or prospect mail efforts will lose money, the goal is to feed the growth funnel with an eye on long-term giving.
No one is completely happy with their databases. Not the ladies at our table or development folks in general. But, as we talked, we recognized that many of the problems with “bad data out” actually starts with bad data in! Improperly coded gifts, incorrect attributions, and a lack of standardized processing all have an impact on clean data. Also, as each of these organizations were over 25 years old, the bad data just keeps piling up and getting worse.
We discussed a variety of ways to recode accounts so that targeted and personalized communications could be sent. And while we didn’t solve the world of frustrating databases, a few of us came away with new ideas that might make things a little smoother.
Grants From the Program Department
The program department writes a grant. Marketing and outreach are not involved in the process. When the grand is awarded, there is suddenly an avalanche of work! We touched on the struggles of trying to put monetary values on staff time for marketing and outreach for grant writers. But it’s a big problem when departments are isolated during the grant writing process. It causes stress and frustration across the board.
Most agreed that having intentional conversations with the grants department is the first step. One organization has a “rate” sheet of services: the cost of staff time in social media, marketing, and events as well as other needs related to the proposals. Communication is key to ensure all deliverables are attainable.
LinkedIn Geo Connect
Among the many helpful tips shared, the LinkedIn Geo connect was one of the best! When in proximity to others, go to the LinkedIn app, to My Network and click the little “add person” icon in the bottom left. When all individuals have the page up together, you can connect right then and there! Brilliant!
We wrapped up our leftovers, connected on LinkedIn, and headed back, somewhat begrudgingly, to the chaotic world of nonprofit fundraising and management. But, the joy of sharing, comparing and commiserating, if only for an hour, and the promise of future gatherings made our steps a little lighter that day.
If you are a nonprofit professional struggling with fundraising, list growth, retention, acquisition or are just looking for a few new ideas, join me for an upcoming CharityChat. These small group meetups in the Triangle, NC region aim to help solve problems through idea and resource sharing.
Additionally, my new book “The Insider’s Guide to Online Fundraising: Finding Success When Surrounded by Skeptics” covers the gamut of fundraising topics including launching digital and integrated campaigns, breaking down silos, launching successful ambassador programs, campaign calendars, project plans, advocating for resources and much, much more!