November 6, 2014

What Roadblocks Exist Between You and Your Donors?

This month we bulldoze away the boulders between you and donated revenue. Imagine a big bulldozer in front of your nonprofit–-coming with its claw to remove a set of glacier-size boulders blocking your front door. Behind the boulders stands a crowd of donors with their checkbooks. What are the boulders that lie between you and donated income? How can your nonprofit remove them?
This article identifies them and offers boulder removal advice.
Failure to Donate Boulder
At my presentation to a chapter of an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chapter last month, everyone wrote down the largest cumulative gift they’d given to a nonprofit in one year. As a whole the group was generous: The total was over $750,000. More than half of the attendees gave less than $1,000.This boulder is a failure to make personal stretch gifts. Remove it by making them. Your stretch gift depends on your individual circumstances. For most people in North America, a stretch gift exceeds $1,000.Before you give, you’ll anticipate missing the money, like your donors. Afterward, you feel pride, satisfaction, and greater connection with the world. Giving a stretch gift teaches you about donor’s worries, fears, and gratification. You can’t bluff here. Donors know if you’ve traveled the philanthropic road you’re asking them to walk.

Undisciplined Boulder

Despite other demands, few things are more important to nonprofits than income growth. The undisciplined rock commonly stops donated income growth. Chisel it away daily by calling a donor who scares you. Set goals such as minimum contacts per week. Then make them. Measure your success. Work on donated income daily, no matter your time challenges. Be disciplined with your chisel and the rock will disappear.

Unorganized Boulder

You have heard individual fundraising is all about relationships, so you build friendships with current and potential donors. Excellent! Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to remove the unorganized boulder. This boulder is blown up by organized data, which crumbles it into manageable bits. Operating without a database is like living in a hoarder’s den, you have the information somewhere but you can’t access it. You need a database to organize the information so that you know that you’ve contacted Millie sixteen times and Edgar once. Remove the boulder: select and use a database to record your contacts and information you learn from meeting them.

Donor Shortage Boulder

Too few nonprofits have a solid pipeline of potential donors flowing to their door. This rock blocks the flow. First find a way to create a flow. Determine how to create many relationships with people with power, influence, resources, and philanthropic interest. Then use the flow’s force to wear through the rock just as the Colorado River shapes the Grand Canyon.

Mark Haney, Vice President of Advancement at The Florida Aquarium, is hard at work keeping the flow open. At a recent Leaderships Alumni event, he shared with several attendees that the aquarium was adding a children’s deck – and that they lacked a budget for a roof over it. An alum from the local power company, TECO, asked if their roof might have solar panels. TECO was looking for public venues where solar panels would make sense. Mark said yes, and within two weeks, the aquarium had a $120,000 commitment for a roof.

At first glace this looks like a one-off event. However, upon inspection you’ll find several repeatable elements that will make the flow of your pipeline stronger:

  • Create and warm friendships.
  • Attend events with others who have an interest in volunteering, investing, and connecting in their community.
  • Share information intelligently about your opportunities and needs.
  • Be open to project modifications.

Lackluster Opportunities Boulder

This boulder is about the quality of your mission work. Do you have quality products and services? Is your service or product competitive with the latest Lexus? Make it that good and better. Everyone claims this is true. Prove it first to yourself and then to others. Chip away at your work until all your efforts produce high quality outcomes.

Invisibility Clock Boulder

It takes more than great work—people must know about your work. Take the invisibility cloak off this rock. Paint a message in large letter so that everyone who comes near learns about your amazing outcomes.

Unloved Post-Investment Boulder

In August, I gave a first donation to a group from whom I bought services for several years. As of mid-October, I’ve heard nothing. My bank statement shows the debit. Legions of donors share similar experiences. The most important time for donors is after. Remove the Unloved Boulder with a system of post-gift follow-up. Allocate energy to it like you do obtaining donations, and the rock will melt away.

Failure to Create Internal Involvement Boulder

You can’t do this alone. Obtaining donations calls for a team. You need all the help you can get. It’s preferable to have the board lead, but no matter their decisions, also engage staff and other volunteers. This spring I worked with a staff of seven people to help them become fundraisers. They started fearful. Six months later, they were confidant enough to encourage their peers from a sister organization to help fundraise. A role exists for everyone involved in a nonprofit to take an active role supporting donated income growth. Gather everyone together to roll this boulder away.

Lack of Patience and Faith Boulder

“Time can do what no person can do.” – Vicki Pugh, Vice President of Development, Palm Beach Atlantic University

Sometimes you must wait. As you look at the field, you see nothing sprouting. Unlike seeds that can be expected to sprout within days, donors engage in their own sprouting pattern. They act in their time—not yours. When you doubt your process and become impatient, this boulder rolls in from afar to block the way. Keep this boulder out of the way by using your waiting time well—and believing in the quality of the seeds you’ve planted and your gardening skills.

There you have it; the boulders that stand between you and donated income. Which of these boulders is between you and more donated income? Use this article as an exercise at your nonprofit. Rank your boulders from small to large. Then determine how to bulldoze them out of your donor’s way.

Missing Boulders: What’s Absent

  1. Extensive development staff.
  2. Being in the arts, or serving children or pets or high donor appeal causes.
  3. Being well-known and popular—although you always will need to communicate your successes and needs.
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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