Get Off the Treadmill

Most nonprofits are on a fundraising treadmill when they could have a sustainable funding stream.  Taking a few simple steps and changing stakeholder perceptions can make it possible to get off the treadmill.

All it takes to have a fundraising treadmill is many one-time donors in your donor base.  You work hard to attract their attention and convince them to make a gift, and they respond by giving only once.  You are putting in a lot of work, but ultimately going nowhere.

If you change your percept of fundraising and its challenges, you will find it easier to create a sustainable funding stream.

Abundance Surrounds You – When fundraising is hard work, money is scarce, and the competition is fierce, it is easy to feel like you are surrounded by scarcity.  That is because you are searching for money.  Start searching for donors.  When you change what you are looking for, it will change how you search.  When you find the right people, you will find it easy to sustain their interest.

Donors Are Individuals – Your mission is unique.  It is very unlikely that everyone in your town wants to support your mission.  Therefore, you must appeal to the individuals who care about your unique mission.  Each of those individuals is as unique as your mission.  Each donor needs a unique appeal so they can connect to the parts of your mission that interest them.  People are intensely loyal to a custom fit.

Fundraising Is Connecting – Some people think fundraising is selling the mission to donors.  However, when you sell something, people buy it and walk away.  Fundraising is connecting the donor’s heart to the mission.  When someone’s heart is connected to something, they remain loyal even in the worst of times.

Simple steps you can take to create a sustainable funding stream are:

Balance Facts and Stories – It is easy to overwhelm a donor.  You want the donor to be comfortable with the facts they receive and the anecdotes they hear.  Since each donor is unique, there needs to be a unique balance of stories and facts.  It is easier to keep a donor connected to your mission when the donor is receiving the balance they need.  The strength of their connection determines the strength of your funding stream.

Build a Relationship – The purpose of fundraising is to find people who want to support your mission (friends of your mission).  Those people will give year after year.  However, until you have a relationship with someone, it is impossible to know if they are someone who will be a lifelong donor.  Lifelong donors are the foundation of a sustainable funding stream.

Delay Asking – Delay asking for a gift until you have a relationship and know that your mission is right for the donor.  When you delay asking, you demonstrate that you value the donor more than their donation.  This increases the sustainability of your funding stream because people want to be associated with organizations that care about them.

Follow-up – Everyone is busy.  Even though donors want to support your mission, sometimes they need a little follow-up to remind them.  It is also a good opportunity to remind them why they said they wanted to give.  Part of following up is also providing a personal thank you.  Following up keeps the relationship strong and increases the sustainability of your funding stream.

Talk Less – When fundraising is truly about the donor, the fundraiser spends more time listening than talking.  A donor’s loyalty and generosity increases when someone cares about what is important to them.  When the donor’s loyalty and generosity are increasing, you know the sustainability of your funding stream is increasing.

The preceding steps are simple but they are also time consuming.  They require patience.  They require you to focus on the donor rather than the donor’s capacity to give.  Everyone is willing to give but their willingness to give is limited to specific missions and causes.  Taking the time to determine if your mission is one of the select few the donor is interested in will increase the sustainability of your funding stream and reduce the cost of raising funds.

Next Step:

Change how you think about fundraising

Change how you interact with donors

Measure your fundraising success by the growth in loyalty and growing generosity of your donors

It is easier to collect a one-time gift than take time to make a lifetime connection but a lifetime connection is worth more than any one-time gift.  Once you establish a durable connection with a donor, it is time to grow the generosity of the donor.  As the donor’s generosity grows, the sustainability of your mission will grow.

Take It Further:

Encourage your board and finance committee to take the long view on fundraising (collecting donors is more important than collecting funds from one-time donors)

Train everyone associated with fundraising to cultivate donors (connect donors to what they want to support rather than asking donors to provide support for what your nonprofit wants)


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