Fundraising Q&A: Summer activities to strengthen your fundraising program

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What should my charity focus on over the summer to strengthen our fundraising program?

July and August are good months to refocus your fundraising strategy so you can hit the ground running come the autumn. While June is often taken up AGMs, July and August are usually slower times for most charities. Many boards of directors don't meet and staff members take holidays with their families. You will have to balance between a quieter time to complete projects and adequate human resources to cover the tasks, but if you have a summer student, some projects can be delegated effectively.

If you are a United Way member agency there is a blackout period during their campaign, usually between September and November. You will need to confirm those boundaries with your local office and then decide whether to mail fundraising letters before or after that period, keeping in mind their restricted list of corporations.

Other charities have the ability to do the bulk of their fundraising in the fall months. September is an excellent time to have proposals arrive in the offices of foundations and corporations. Thanksgiving or anytime in that pre-holiday season may be the focus of a solicitation to individuals. Now is a perfect opportunity to prepare for what?s traditionally the best time of the year to raise significant funds.

Summer steps to success

1. Identify the low-hanging fruit

In fundraising jargon, lapsed donors are called LYBUNTs (last year but unfortunately not this) and SYBUNTs (some year...).

It's useful if the software you use to track your donations can run reports that pull out individuals who haven't made a gift in a defined span of time, for instance within the last year or two. Donors that you haven't spoken to in three years or more have probably lost interest, so focus on those who may not have forgotten you (yet).

Hopefully you have kept your database up to date and will know if a request letter was returned because of an incorrect address. But if not, now is a good time to update your records. Whether it's a summer student, volunteer or employee, you need a curious individual who doesn?t give up too easily (particularly if the lapsed donor made a major gift). A reverse search using an old or new phone number instead of name on www.canada411.ca may provide updated information. If not, searching the donor's name either on that site or Google may work. You may also find Facebook or LinkedIn profiles that will contribute to your research.

2. Embrace social media

Resistance if futile...we're being assimilated. If your charity isn't already using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media vehicles as a way to invite followers in two-way conversations, it's time to start. This is a new form of knowledge exchange that will not go away...no matter how deeply we bury our (greying) heads in the sand.

Seek the advice of those who still have their natural hair colour and/or are more tech-savvy than you. Social media enables charities to adapt messages according to the audience. You can solicit feedback and involve your followers.

Admittedly, you do need to give up some control of what's said because you're inviting dialogue (conversational exchange), but the advantage is that your charity gains engaged followers who are influenced by the mission.

This strategy should have board approval but the leg work can happen during the summer so that once appropriate policies are put in place, all the behind-the-scenes efforts are already completed.

 

3. Help board members strengthen fundraising efforts

Successful fundraising does depend on a "culture of philanthropy" that implies a concerted team effort within your organization. In March 2009 we discussed involving your board in fundraising.

Knowing that most people are not comfortable asking for money, it's a fundraiser's (or executive director's) duty to provide the training needed to succeed. Don't throw your board members out to the sharks without giving them the fishing tackle to reel in a big one!

Help your board identify where they are most suited to assist. Martha Marketer feels comfortable asking for a major gift (particularly with added training on how to close the deal). Amazing Grace prefers to call donors and thank them for their generosity. Betsy Baker loves cooking for special events and Graham Golfer enjoys running those tournaments, while Sly Sleuth can't resist prospect research. Divide up the responsibilities and support the board in their efforts. Ensure they understand the many roles they can play in successful fundraising.

4. Take stock and broadcast the news

It's possible you have already summarized your achievements. This is particularly true of those charities that have just gone through an annual general meeting. I like to see an inventory of key accomplishments that you can share with your "family" (board, volunteers, donors, members, staff) and beyond...even your local media can determine if it's newsworthy, but in the meantime, you've engaged them in that decision. Communicate regularly with those closest to you about the difference the charity makes in peoples' lives. Although some of my fundraising colleagues may disagree, I feel there should be times when you share information without asking for money.

Your objective is keep your stakeholders informed of the good work you do. In the process you build credibility. Donors like to back a winner...prove to them that their investment is well spent.

Make your communication brief and to the point. Two distilled pages are far easier to digest than a lengthy document. Pictures will say many more words if chosen strategically.

5. Research prospective donors

Renewing your existing donors is always your number one priority, but finding new ones to replace those who have died, moved away or changed allegiances is vital to survival. Between you and Sly Sleuth, there is the potential to target new individuals, businesses and foundations. If you've been following my columns you already know about "Linkage, Ability and Interest", which is one of my mantras first mentioned in February 2009. These are the necessary components that define the difference between a suspect and a prospect, allowing you to target those most likely to give. You'll also find more information in Part I and Part II of Creating an Individual Donor Base.

Conclusion

These five relatively simple steps will strengthen your fundraising efforts and pay dividends. Enjoy the time to reflect on the little details that get overlooked when the organization is running full steam ahead.

Have a great (and productive) summer!

Cynthia Armour is a freelance specialist in fundraising and governance. A Certified FundRaising Executive (CFRE) since 1995, she volunteers as a subject matter expert with CFRE International. She works with boards and senior staff to ensure that strong leadership will enhance organizational capacity to govern and fundraise effectively. Contact Cynthia directly at 705-799-0636, e-mail answers@elderstone.ca, or visit www.elderstone.ca for more information about her services.

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Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor CharityVillage.com make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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