The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Help! My Boss Set Me Up for Fundraising Failure

Ask a Fundraising Coach

One of my 2020 goals is to improve the donor experience. However, I’m not sure where to start to see our donation experience through the donors eyes. What’s your go-to method for reviewing and improving donor experience? 

First and foremost – congratulations!! This is a very important and all-too-often overlooked essential for growing nonprofits. I recommend conducting this type of audit every three years. While creating a forum for sharing findings and feedback may seem less than desirable on the surface – smart fundraising professionals know it is far better to be the leader of this process. The alternative is often led by the Board and can be a formidable sign of challenging times ahead.

My first recommendation is to enlist a partner. The purpose of a partner, preferably one outside of the communications, events, or development team, is to gain the insights of someone with limited knowledge of the content prior to receipt. You could trade and do the same for your partner’s team! 😊

Second, start where you suspect you are the weakest – perhaps as a first-time event attendee, monthly donor, or new subscriber to your organization’s e-newsletter (extra credit if this list is managed by another department). Finally, to do this well and get the greatest return on time invested, I recommend investing one year into the process with a goal of identifying one item to address and improve each quarter. Before you get started – take a minute to answer the questions below.

  1.  How much time are you willing to allocate to the process? To identify items in need of improvement as well as develop and implement solutions to address. To get started, I recommend allocating a min of 6 hours.
  2. How much funding is available to support the implementation of solutions and the purchase of new products? I recommend a minimum of $250/quarter
  3. How much funding is available to research the journey as a donor for 2-4 similar organizations? Look for organizations similar in age, zip code, # of donors, annual budget, staff size, mission area, etc. I recommend a minimum of $100/year. Bonus – this is a great part of the project to allocate to a new colleague(s) or board member and a rewarding way to engage the entire team in the conversation moving forward.
Have a question to ask? Get in touch at [email protected].

My nonprofit is fairly new and pretty small. I have taken over fundraising responsibilities and I’m the first person that we’ve had dedicated to raising money. Our founder has set (in my opinion) wildly unrealistic fundraising expectations. Say we raised $5,000 this year – next year he wants to raise $50,000. It’s that big of a jump. He’s not listening to reason and has been implying that my performance will be judged by my ability to meet this goal. I’ve volunteered and worked at nonprofits before so I’m not totally new to fundraising, so I’m pretty sure that goal is impossible (but maybe not? Is it possible to grow 1000% in one year??). If I can’t convince him to set a more realistic goal, I basically have to make it happen or risk losing my job. Feeling set up to fail.”

“Anything is possible” – Kevin Garnett

I could write for days on the importance of goal setting as it relates to professional development, employee engagement, and burnout. Feeling set up to fail is never fun. Throughout my career, I’ve wasted too much time speculating why a goal was set. Alternatively, I’ve attempted to use reason, science, and twenty years of first-hand experience to help decision-makers better understand the risk of setting unrealistic goals.

My current feelings on the matter are mixed. What I know for sure is that goals are hit, exceeded, missed, and reforecasted every day. Even more important – I know very few people who have hesitated their way into promotions. Forget reason – let’s jump in the deep end. We can figure out how to swim later.

My recommendation is to first develop your best plan to raise $50K in twelve months. Think big and check out some of Network for Good’s amazing resources. Off top of my head – I encourage you to launch a corporate partner program, invite a local high school or university to sponsor a month of social media, and participate in a local giving day. Triple the frequency of communications. Create a list of turnkey volunteer opportunities designed to help with donor engagement (thank you calls, conduct video interviews with individuals that benefit from your nonprofit).

An essential part of this plan will be scheduling monthly prospect review meetings with as many senior staff and/or board members as you can find. The purpose of these meetings (60 min max) will be to keep everyone apprised of progress toward this very ambitious goal. I encourage you to circulate an agenda seven days in advance of the monthly meeting with a request for contributions. Dedicate the first five minutes of each meeting to a review of the same numbers – total contributions, total donors, ticket sales, appeals sent, meetings completed and scheduled. Follow each meeting with a recap of next steps assigned to the person responsible. Let’s be real – you are overseeing an operation to raise 10x as much as you did the previous year with a minimal increase in resources (as far as I can tell). Keep driving this home in every communication related to this goal. You need all the best ideas and help available.

Be upbeat, consistent, grateful and know I am cheering you along every step of the way.

Ask a Fundraising Coach is Network for Good’s weekly advice column, where Personal Fundraising Coach Andrea Holthouser tackles your toughest challenges in the world of fundraising, nonprofit management, donor relations, and more.

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Carrie Saracini
Content Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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