It’s very easy to offend someone without even knowing you’re doing it. Asking for money can be a very sensitive subject. There are lots of ways to screw it up. Over the years, I have found that there are a few cardinal sins that you should avoid committing, so that you don’t end up becoming someone your donors are repelled by. You, personally, never want to be the reason a donor decides not to give.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned in my time raising money for non-profits. As always, I encourage you to add your own ideas in the comment section!
1. Perspective donors aren’t clear about what the purpose of the fundraiser is. It is not uncommon for a non-profit to just announce that it is “Having a Fundraiser”. The administration sends home a fundraising catalog or says it’s having a car wash, but isn’t very clear what the money it raises will go towards.
This doesn’t inspire a sense of commitment or passion in your target audience. You need them something to go on, a reason to show up and do the work.
I know that many times, a non-profit just needs to raise money for its general fund. That’s ok, but please be more creative than that when you are planning your fundraising. Look over your budget expenses. Find something fun or at least something that is directly related to your product or service. For instance, don’t just pick “phone bill” or “garbage disposal”. Once you’ve found something you think people can get behind, make that the target of your fundraiser. So, instead of simply having a “Car Wash”, you’ve now got “Car Wash for Kick Boards”. (Catchy name for all equipment needed for a swim team, for example). Now, you can take the money that you normally would have spend to buy equipment and put it on something else, less appealing to your supports, like the phone or garbage removal bills.
This also leads into a better way to repeat this fundraiser annually. Your group will remember that last year, around the same time, you had the “Car Wash for Kick Boards”.
2. You have asked the same people too many times. Some people call this “going back to the well” too often. This is often a result of poor planning at the start of an operating year. Instead of spending time beforehand studying your income and expenses and your monthly cash flow, you decide to just “wing it”. So, when you hit a low period and that results in a cash crunch, you suddenly decide you should have a fundraiser.
Well, twelve months is a long time, and you could very well experience many of these budgetary peaks and valleys. Without a plan, you might be having a handful of unplanned fundraisers throughout the year.
People are going to tire of this very quickly. As a result, they are going to stop giving to your organization, because it will become obvious that you don’t have a plan.
One way to solve this problem is to actually plan ahead and have one or two major fundraisers that will cover all your lean times in a year, instead of having four or five mini-fundraisers. But, you should announce the major fundriasers you are going to have right at the beginning of your year, so people know what to expect.
A second solution would be to target various groups within your community for different fundraisers. I once worked for a non-profit that held a golf outing for the alumni supporters and an auction for parents of our child clients. It was a nice way to share the load and not over-burden any one group.
3. They have done the exact same fundraiser for another group. Aye yigh yigh… This one is terrible. A few years ago, my kids had a catalog fundraiser at their elementary school. Two weeks after we turned in our orders, my daughters’ cheerleading squad sent home the exact same catalog. And, to make it even worse, the cheerleading practice was held at THE SAME ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! There were posters up on the wall and everything. But the cheerleading teacher never noticed them.
I was really upset. I knew that the cheerleading team need the money, and I wanted to give it to them. But, I was so put off by their lack of planning and lack of forethought, that I didn’t buy anything that time around. I simply told them that I had just ordered from the same company two weeks earlier, so I wouldn’t be placing an order from them. People have to learn somehow, I guess.
So, the moral of the story is to do your homework before you have a fundraiser. Call around to any other group that your clients/customers might be involved with. Your research should take all of one hour. Once you know what the other groups are doing, spend some time researching other, unique methods of raising money. There is an endless supply of ideas.
4. The fourth reason fundraising can go so wrong is that people are asked to sell items that they really don’t want to buy. This is a big trap that many non-profits fall into. Unfortunately, it seems that the “easiest” way to raise money is to just launch some kind of a product sale: cookie dough, wrapping paper, candles, scratch cards, etc. However, there are many costs to product fundraising. First, you end up sending at least half your profits to some big, faceless company out of town, or out of state. Of all the money your families raised, you’ll be lucky to keep half. When parents find out about that, they usually aren’t too happy. Many of them just ask, “Why didn’t I just write a check and be done with it?”
Second, most fundraising items are things you don’t really need, don’t really want, and are way over-priced. I know that over-pricing things is a reality in fundraising, but asking people to overpay for something they wouldn’t buy anyway just adds to the frustration. If you’re going to overcharge on something, do it on tickets to a carnival or something where people will at least have fun. Remember the old song, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”
5. The fifth reason that some fundraisers have gotten a bad rap is that people feel pressure to participate and guilt when they don’t. Basically, I think people are good and want to lend a hand. We, as professional and volunteer fundraisers, have to realize that fact and find ways for everyone to help that fits their lifestyle and situation.
When someone doesn’t participate in a fundraiser, it’s usually not because they hate your organization. Therefore, you need to pinpoint the reasons why they didn’t take part and then find solutions to get them to participate. (That’s what an article like this is for.)
So, as a fundraiser, you have to start taking the longer view of things. When you plan a fundraiser, you have to just accept the fact that a certain percentage of your audience won’t be involved. That’s alright. Just make sure that you plan various kinds of fundraisers throughout the year that will appeal to everyone’s taste at one time or another.
Another solution that I have mentioned before is the opt-out option. If someone is really stuck and doesn’t want to get involved or can’t find the time to volunteer, make sure they know they can simply write a check to cover their obligation. That way, you have removed the pressure of time for them.
In the end, just remember that you will have to meet your clients where they are. It is up to you to eliminate as many of the obstacles to giving as you can. You just have to show them that even if they don’t want to or can’t be active this time around, that coming up in a few months, they’ll have the perfect opportunity. I just means that you’ll have to be better at planning ahead of time.
Photo by: NDomer73