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How to survive as a small fundraising shop

by Tina Cincotti

I’ve spent my entire fundraising career in small shops. So let’s just say I know a bit about the stress that comes with being responsible for EVERYTHING.

So, how do you raise the money you need?

First, everyone must help with fundraising – the full staff and board.

Your director should be the primary fundraiser, even if you’ve got development staff. The fundraiser’s job is to ensure that the director makes the best use of their fundraising time, not relieve them of their fundraising work.

The whole board must also help with fundraising. Even if they “don’t know anyone with money.” Even if they’re a “working board, not a money board.”

This doesn’t mean everyone on the board has to solicit. There are plenty of ways to be involved with fundraising without asking for money. What matters is full participation.

Now, what about the rest of the staff? Do I actually expect everyone to help with fundraising? Yes, I do. And you should too.

There’s a limit to how many supporters one or two people can contact in a day.

Imagine how much more personal attention you could give your donors if everyone on staff had 10-12 supporters that they were responsible for. Staff could write “thank you” cards, call to let them know about a major victory, send your newsletter in a hand-addressed envelope with a note, etc.

The last human resource that is critical for small shops to engage — consultants.

Knowing what you don’t have to do in-house is as important as knowing what you do have to do. Your time is worth money and needs to be spent on the most critical, high-level tasks — namely, personally connecting with donors.

And if you pick the right person to help with grant writing or your direct mail appeal, they’ll create something that will more than pay for the added cost of bringing them in to help.

Now, what about you? Where you should focus your time? Prioritize donor retention above all else.

Keeping your donors is far easier and more profitable than finding new ones.

Research by Adrian Sargeant shows that a 10% increase in donor retention will increase the lifetime value of your donor base by an average of 50%.

How? The effect builds over time. If 10% more of your donors are still giving at the end of this year, you’ll have 10% more people giving next year. And next year, you’ll lose 10% less of those and so on.

To increase donor retention, devote your constant attention to…

  • Sending prompt, personal thank you notes
    (HEY! Don’t skip this part thinkin you’ve heard it all before. Most of you are still not doing it! Why is this important? Because how well you do on your “thank you” translates directly to how well donors think you do your program work.)

    1. Schedule non-negotiable time at least 2-3 times/week to send “thank you” notes.
    2. Have different templates ready to go for these scenarios: 1st time donations, renewals, giving more than once in a year, and increased gifts.
    3. Don’t bore your donors. Ditch that standard opener. Create a unique, genuine “thank you” letter using these tips (PDF).
    4. Update your letters at least three times a year. You don’t want anyone getting the same letter twice!
  • Calling your donors to say “thank you”
    If you can’t call everyone who gives, prioritize them in this order:

    • First-time donors are your top priority.
    • Anyone who increases their support is next on the list.
    • Then come people who are giving their second (or third) gift of the year.
    • Anyone who’s given 5+ years in a row, even if they give $25 a year with no intention to give more. And, yes, call them every year that they continue to give.
    • And, of course, most of you will also have some dollar amount above which everyone gets a call.
  • Treating all first-time donors as potential major donors
    You have no idea what someone’s capacity is from their first contribution. Even a $15 gift could be from a potential major donor. That’s why the “thank you” call and special “thank you” letter are so important.

    On top of that, send a “welcome kit” (either with your thank you note or 1-2 weeks later) that reinforces the great decision they made by donating. You can include your latest newsletter, a copy of your annual report, a recent press clip, etc.

  • Asking your donors how satisfied they are with your organization
    Satisfaction is the number one factor affecting donor loyalty. And how do you know if your donors are happy? You ask!

    Send a survey asking your donors what they think of how you treat them, the contact they have with your organization, etc.

    What should one of these surveys look like, you ask? Well, I happen to have a sample (PDF) for you.

I’d give all this advice to organizations of any size but small shops are shouldering the heaviest workloads with the fewest resources. So you must be even more strategic about making the most of your time.

Do what I say and you’ll raise more money. I guarantee it.

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