Elements of a Successful Fundraising Effort

Last week at a meeting of professionals involved in financial resource development, a case study of a successful fundraising campaign was presented. It provided all of us with an opportunity to understand the key components of a successful fundraising effort; let me share several of these elements with you.

The most challenging aspect of financial resource development is planning a successful fundraising campaign, but we only know after the campaign ends whether it was worth the effort. The value of all the hard work and good intentions that went into preparing the materials, training the solicitors, advertising in the media, and telling people’s personal stories is only known once we look at the campaign results.

To ensure a successful fundraising effort, organizations have to focus on and structure the campaign process in the following ways so that the needed funds are raised and the process simultaneously strengthens the organization.

1. The need has to be clearly identified and should relate to a specific segment of the community. The need can be in one or more of the following areas, such as: health, education, social welfare, or culture.

Yet it is not sufficient to announce a generic campaign to increase services in one or more of these areas. Because individuals who contribute funds want to know they are providing a service that meets the needs of specific people, the campaign should be focused on a discrete need. For example, if there is interest in establishing or expanding services for older people, the campaign needs to focus on a specific need faced by seniors. Providing comprehensive services for older adults with Alzheimer’s disease is very expensive because of the high numbers of staff needed to provide that care, even in group settings. Therefore, a campaign could be targeted to increasing the number of trained staff in day centers serving clients with Alzheimer’s disease.

If the needs can be described in specific ways and be personalized to reflect a real situation, the request for funds will be more compelling to those who are solicited. Generalizations do not work when we appeal to people to support services to populations in need. The personal story of an individual who attends the day center speaks louder than a list of the characteristics of a person who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and a description of the range of services that should be provided. Personal examples strengthen the case for giving and enable people to identify with the cause.

Continuing with this example, it is also imperative to realize that those who have had to care for a relative who is suffering or has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease might be most open to supporting services to this population. The same is true with people who have had relatives and friends with other medical, social, and educational challenges. Often a donor’s personal experience is the best motivator to support community services for those in need.

2. The solicitor who is passionate about the need for which he or she is raising funds can best make that need come alive. When training professional and volunteer leadership for the campaign, quality of their level of passion cannot be overemphasized. Passion is contagious, and prospective donors often respond to the strength of the solicitors’ commitment to the cause. People who identify with the cause can influence those who might not otherwise consider contributing to the campaign. Their passion should be reflected in the public relations material prepared to support the campaign.

3. It is essential to target the right group of prospective donors; sufficient thought must be given to who are those who are most likely to contribute to the effort. One effective strategy is to conduct a pre-campaign that will result in having a number of donors who have pledged funds prior to the campaign being announced. The initial success of the campaign often encourages other people in the community to contribute.

4. Selecting prospective donors requires a mapping of the community and identifying those people who are most likely to support the campaign. One of the best ways to do so is to conduct a focus group process in which people from the community both share their perspectives on the needs you have identified and learn about the needs that might be otherwise unnoticed. At the very least those who attend these meetings will be exposed to the organization and to its approach to the community’s needs. This process should not be confused with a parlor meeting, and funds should not be solicited at the focus groups. They are an opportunity to create a nonthreatening, open environment that exposes prospective donors to the agency leadership’s views on unmet community needs and how the agency can best address them.

5. Trained solicitors understand that fundraising is not about the money alone. It is about developing relationships and cultivating the prospective donor and his or her relationship with the solicitor and the organization. The expression “people give to people” means that donors contribute to a need because they connect both with the solicitor and with the people whose lives will be enhanced by the funds they have given. This means that the professional and volunteer leaders who are soliciting contributions have to focus on their relationship to the donor, as well as on the cause for which they are raising funds.

6. When someone has contributed to the agency, that contribution should be seen as the beginning of the relationship, not its end; it should signal the initial connection that the donor has with the organization. There should then be a continuing effort to build a lasting connection so that the donor becomes a regular contributor: The one-time donor is not an efficient or effective campaign strategy. Each donor should be viewed as a potential volunteer leader and his or her first contribution as an opportunity to think about how to bring the person closer to the organization and have the opportunity to become more active and involved.

7. Another effective strategy is to identify corporations, the government, or individuals who are willing not only to support the organization but also to reward it for demonstrating its ability to raise funds. A way of doing this is to have a matching campaign and to receive the commitment from one or more of those entities to match funds raised by the organization. Frequently corporations or donors will challenge the organization by announcing they will match donations on a one-to-one, two-to-one, or three-to-one basis. This means that for every dollar, two dollars, or three dollars (or shekels) raised, they will match it with one of their own. It is customary for such donors to announce they will match up to a certain amount (e.g., $1,000,000 or another amount), although occasionally, they will set a time limit—for example, within a week or a month—instead. This type of arrangement provides an added incentive both to solicitors and prospective donors to participate in the campaign.

Financial resource development is not about just raising needed funds. It is about a planned approach to strengthening the relationship between donors and the nonprofit. When it is done successfully it is very rewarding because the organization has built a foundation on which to grow and expand its donor base and to recruit committed volunteer leadership. It is essential to understand that planning the fundraising process correctly is beneficial for the organization for today as well as tomorrow.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.