"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
Fundraising is both an art and a science. If your fundraising revenues are static
or declining, your organization is probably making one or more of these common
- Lack of planning
- Repeating the same old fundraiser
- Not recruiting enough help
- Low quality merchandise
- Inadequate sales preparation
- Poor support materials
- No sales scripts
- Weak internal communication
- Lack of publicity
- Continuous fundraising
- Bad timing
- No rewards
- Poor rewards
- Letting problems fester
- Picking the wrong fundraiser
Lack of planning
Things haven't been thought through. Deadlines produce a crisis response.
Nobody knows exactly what to do. Everything is a haphazard fire drill. Does any
of this sound familiar?
Usually only a few people have the prior knowledge needed from the year before,
so there's a bottleneck on information. That often produces the "suffering martyr
syndrome" where the person in charge, who should have had everything planned
well in advance, instead spends their time moaning about how overworked they
are. Admit it, you know that person!
All of this can be avoided if the right preparations are made ahead of time. See
the Section on Preparation for a host of valuable ideas.
Repeating the same fundraiser
The same old fundraiser is done over and over again because that's what you've
always done. The roles and responsibilities are well known, so it's a safe
comfortable solution. Unfortunately, your supporters are probably sick and tired
of it. Your volunteers probably feel the same way.
The typical result is flat to declining total revenue, not to mention all the missed
opportunities. Have you ever looked at your old records to see what the average
customer sale and average profit per sale were several years ago? It's a good
bet that there's been little change.
The root causes of this fundraising inertia are lack of knowledge, fear of change,
unwillingness to upset the status quo, etc. If you will take the time to expand
your knowledge base, then you will increase your success.
Remember that your goal should be to maximize your revenue and increase your
net every year, not to maintain a breakeven position. After all, the items and
services your funds raised purchase have definitely risen in price over the years!
Even if it's just inflation, the things your funds will eventually buy get more
expensive each year, so your net proceeds need to grow as well. Newer
fundraising activities have come along that can increase your net results per
customer by 25% or more.
Don't let your fundraising efforts achieve less than they could because they lack
better direction. See the Section on Organization for more insights.
Not enough help
Overworking your core volunteer group is a recipe for disaster. Good people
who are willing to help your cause at no cost are hard to find. Why chew them up
and spit them out?
Increase your volunteer base by defining all the roles and responsibilities. You
should have written descriptions of what's expected from each support role.
Make sure that it includes an accurate estimate of the time that position requires.
Break those volunteer time blocks into two, four, or eight-hour chunks. By
defining how much time a support position requires, you increase the likelihood
of a match with potential volunteers. Allow job sharing; that is, allow two people
to sign up for one function and coordinate their own efforts.
Another way to avoid burning out your volunteers is to recruit for all positions at
the beginning of the year. This requires having your master project plan for the
year mapped out ahead of time. Offer signup sheets for this year's positions at
your first group meeting. That's when people are the most receptive to the idea
of pitching in, particularly if it's for a clearly defined amount of time.
Circulate flyers at every meeting for the remaining open positions. If necessary,
include a call for additional help in your newsletter.
The Section titled The Basics is an excellent source of ideas.
Low quality merchandise
Sales are declining. Customers are saying no thanks all too often. Multiple unit
sales are a rarity. Complaints are commonplace.
If these are happening to your organization, a wrong decision has been made
somewhere along the line. Perhaps a higher profit percentage on every item
sold sounded like a good idea. The result isn't higher net profits; it's lower sales.
Those lower sales are coupled with disappointed clients. Your group's reputation
Get rid of the junky stuff. Ask yourself if you or someone you know would pay
those prices for similar quality goods at retail. If the answer is no, look for a new
supplier before your support base erodes further. The idea is to buy at wholesale
and sell at close to retail, not at twice retail.
For decision criteria, see the Section on Selecting the Right Fundraiser.
For supplier information, consult the Sections titled Supplier Profiles and
Inadequate sales preparation
Remember the very first fundraiser you participated in? Did you know everything
you needed to know as a participant? Chances are that you didn't and that you
did the best you could without much direction.
A common mistake is to have no written instructions or inadequate instructions
given to your sales team. Don't expect people to know all the selling "to-do's"
without adequate direction. Many volunteers could be new recruits or have
served a different function for a past fundraiser.
The results of inadequate sales preparation are costly. You'll end up with missed
opportunities, order confusion, lost payments, mistakes on order sheets, and
many others that all cost either time or money to fix.
Be sure to take the time to do it right and you'll save in the long run. Read the
Section on Preparation for more tips.
Poor support materials
Having poor support materials is another problem. Usually these are obtained
from a supplier and shown to each prospective supporter. The quality of that
presentation material is a reflection of your organization. Don't settle for
brochures that make your group look bad.
If necessary, create additional sales materials in-house and supplement what
your sellers have available to them. For example, if your group is selling
discount shopping cards for $10 each and the accompanying brochure doesn't
really get the message across, create a flyer with large print emphasizing the
Here's a sample flyer for a BUDS discount card:
Be our BUD for only $10 and save up to $600!
- Use it once - Save $2
- Use it once at each merchant - Save $30
- Use it year round with no limits - Save up to $600
Check out these great deals:
- Free large drink with taco.
- Two-for-one pizza DELIVERED!
- Save $2 on two kid's meals
Saving with our BUD's Card is the way to go!
Having a flyer that the prospective supporter can read gets the message across
much quicker than your sales team can say it. That way, the entire message
comes through visually and your sales rate jumps.
For a more in-depth review, see the Section on Sales Techniques.
No sales script
Not having a written sales presentation is another big mistake. In many
fundraisers, a child is one of the primary sales channels. Why would you expect
a youngster to be a natural salesperson? Having been in sales for more than a
dozen years myself, I can tell you with confidence that advance preparation is a
mandatory requirement for success.
Write out one or two sales scripts that focus on your organization's specific need
and properly present offering. Distribute those scripts to your team along with
written instructions on practicing within the family, how to build a prospect list,
etc. If you think your group has this area mastered, select any seller at random
and have them give you their sales pitch. I can guarantee that you'll be
A boy of about 14 appeared on my doorstep one evening. Shoulders hunched
over, he mumbled his pitch to his shoes, which could barely be seen beneath his
drooping pants. Less than a week later, another boy came to my door for the
same reason. He looked me in the eye, gave me two sentences about his
purpose, and asked for my help.
To which one did I contribute? Okay, both of them, but not everyone is a softie
like me, but I did contribute more to the second visitor. Work on sales pitch delivery!
I've included a couple of sample sales scripts in this book along with detailed
information on sales preparation. Read the Section on Sales Scripts for
complete coverage of this topic.
Weak internal communication
This manifests itself in many ways and severely hampers your fundraising efforts.
Not giving clear direction to your volunteers and your sellers equals a lack-luster
Here are some examples:
There are no individual or sub-group goals given at the start of your drive. The
group's specific goal isn't communicated clearly to the sellers. Your message
isn't getting across to buyers. No feedback is given to your participants or to
your supporters about the results. Nobody knows how well the fundraiser did or
whether it was worth the effort.
These kind of communication problems create a strong drag on profits. Revisit
how your group passes along information. Design a system with multiple paths
of communication. Eliminate bottlenecks in the flow of information. Leverage
your website as a great source of specific data on everything your group is doing.
All of these topics and more are covered in the Section on Communication.
Lack of publicity
Advertising works. That's why you see so much of it. Put it to work for your
organization by getting the word out in every possible fashion. Use flyers,
posters, signs, media contacts, etc. When was the last time your group sent out
a press release?
Publicity increases community awareness of your non-profit organization and
pays untold dividends. It will motivate additional participation, increase your
volunteer pool, provide feedback, and give a method for communicating results.
See the Section on Publicity for more detailed information.
This article is continued here: Common Fundraising Mistakes Part 2
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Kimberly Reynolds is the author of Fundraising Success and the "web
mistress" of FundraiserHelp.com. She brings a high-powered background
to the fundraising arena, including a dozen years of sales experience
with Dell and Cisco Systems.
Her book, Fundraising Success, is packed with powerful tips that are
guaranteed to boost your group's results. Kimberly focuses on helping
schools, churches, and youth sports groups by providing event ideas and
advice on organizational techniques.
This chapter from the book, Fundraising Success! by Kimberly Reynolds, is reprinted with permission.