There has been a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth by fundraisers lately about the volume of work they are required to do and the miraculous results they are expected to achieve. Who can blame them? Many are working with reduced staffs and significantly lower budgets. Yet, goals have increased due to decreased endowment revenue, reductions in public funding, lower ticket sales, fewer visitors and increased overhead. In the last week alone, I have received emails from fundraisers sent at 2:45 AM and 11:32 PM!
Speaking from the perspective of someone who spent 25 plus years in fundraising and now sits on the other side of the desk, I believe a big part of the problem is fundraisers think they need to do everything themselves (I was as guilty of this, as anyone). No one understands their organization/mission/message/need/donors/etc. the way they do, and therefore, they can’t let go of even the tiniest detail.
While this is true when it comes to major gift solicitation and cultivation, there are many elements that can be turned over to others or outsourced to trusted partners. I say this, not because this is the business I am now in, but because I lived it. Looking back, I realize how much more I could have accomplished had I been able to let go of some of the minutia.
I’m not sure if for me it was arrogance (I am the only one who can do this) or if it was an excuse borne out of fear (OMG – if I turn this project over to [name the person/sources here] then I will have go out and actually TALK to donors).
In this day of increasing complexity and workload, the most productive activity in which any fundraiser can engage is one-to-one cultivation and solicitation. This is where the organization is going to succeed or fail. The rest – the events, acquisition and annual fund – while important, is never going to bring in the big bucks that will ultimately enable the organization to achieve its goals.
Does it really matter if an appeal letter uses the word “give” as opposed to “contribute” or “support” ... Really? Are the hours a fundraiser spends writing, re-writing, editing and re-editing an annual appeal more beneficial to the organization than if that same amount of time was spend calling a new donor to say “thank you”? Or visiting with a long time donor to the organization? Is it really more important than TALKING with donors and prospects?
Only those on the inside of an organization can build true, solid relationships with potential major gift and planned giving donors. This cannot be outsourced. But frankly, a lot of the other work can. Acquisition, annual fund, prospect research and analytics can all be turned over to a partner IF – and it is a big IF – those in charge are willing to sacrifice just a little control in lieu of spending their time cultivating and soliciting to build a truly robust fundraising program.
Fundraisers must be judicious with their time. They must ask themselves honestly, “Which activities are going to have the greatest impact on my organization’s bottom line?” And then they must pursue those activities with tenacity, focus, singleness-of-purpose.