Maybe it’s the recession. Perhaps it’s just the nonprofit clients I’ve been meeting with lately. It sure seems like “finding funding” to be sustainable in the future is on the top of nonprofit leaders’ minds these days. In a few strategic planning meetings with boards of directors, we found that the five-year strategy was taking a back seat to the fundraising strategy.
I probably can’t lend a new idea to the discourse on fundraising. Most organizations have brainstormed through virtually every idea seeking unique ways to raise money. (If you haven’t, it’s probably time to sit down and do that.)
But I do have one key thought to add to the dialog as a reminder to nonprofit leaders: For most organizations, fundraising requires a long-term plan and an ongoing effort. Probably knew that didn’t you? But, are you doing something about it?
To me, there is a parallel with running a small business. The business owner sells her product, she gets busy delivering her product and slows down her marketing efforts, then she has to hit the road again selling 24/7 to survive. Nonprofits often get so caught up in their mission (okay, they need to be caught up in their mission) that they let their fundraising strategy wither. In for-profit terminology, fundraising has a long “sales cycle”. That is, you know that you can’t just decide to raise money one day and it shows up on your doorstep next week.
An annual fundraising strategy isn’t strategic enough. Think 3 years or 5 years. Consider how long it takes to find and develop a relationship with a key donor. Double that number and that’s probably how far out your strategic fundraising plan should cover. In Nonprofit Fundraising De-mystified, Tony Poderis says, “You don’t decide today to raise money and then ask for it tomorrow; it takes time, patience, and planning to raise money.” By the way, Tony’s other myths and truths about fundraising are valuable reminders.
So, today’s suggestion is that if you haven’t given much thought to your fundraising strategy lately, now is a good time to get started.