Is your fundraising “fair” to all of your staff?

I once worked with a nonprofit that had more than 100 programs active around the world.

We did 12 fundraising campaigns a year, and the leaders at the organization were deeply troubled that we were “ignoring” 90+ of their excellent programs in the fundraising messages.

So they went to work and squeezed all their programs into 12 categories. Unsurprisingly, the 12th category was “Miscellaneous.”

Our marching orders: Each of our 12 fundraising campaigns would feature one of those categories.

You can probably guess how that went:

  • 2 were winners.
  • Another 3 got acceptable, though not great, results.
  • The rest were disastrously bad. (You can imagine how the “Miscellaneous” campaign did.)

No fundraising program has 100% winners. But if the majority of your campaigns do poorly, you have a problem. Which we really did.

It took another full year to get the organization to move away from this approach.

They did it that way for two reasons:

  1. Staff across all the different programs reportedly wanted to be “fairly represented” by fundraising messaging.
  2. The leaders of the organization wanted to “fully educate” donors on the breadth of their programs.

The cost of meeting those two goals was huge. Fundraising revenue the two years we did it that way was down more than a third what it had been before. Donor retention dropped by several percentage points, meaning even after we “fixed” the approach, we had a smaller file to go to. There was a round of layoffs, and a number of programs had to be cancelled, meaning not only did some good people lose their jobs, but many people the organization existed to serve were abandoned. The results may have been fatal for some of them.

Here’s the possibly painful truth: Not all of your activities are equally suited for fundraising. Some of the things you do are just too complex, too abstract, too specialized to capture the hearts of a lot of donors.

Programs that don’t work in fundraising are no less valuable than those that do. But focusing on them in fundraising could cost you a lot.

Your job is to produce fundraising that works.

Or, as the The Better Fundraising Blog put it at Is Your Spotlight on Your Stars?

… it’s a higher value to raise more money and help more people, than it is to be fair to internal stakeholders. After all, your organization was founded to do as much good as possible — not to ensure everybody at the organization receives equal airtime.

If your program people are relying on the content of your fundraising for their sense of validation, I’m guessing your organization has an HR problem of epic dimensions. Your fundraising is not going to solve it — though raising more money might help!

Focus your fundraising on donor-first offers that work. Spend some time and effort looking for ways of selling new offers — after all, you just might discover something great. But free your fundraising from the burden of making staff feel good. It costs too much. (And it doesn’t really make them feel good.)


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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