The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

How Fundraising with Spreadsheets Got Me Fired

Earlier in my career, I was terminated after a spectacular overestimation of my abilities.

Armed with a tone-deaf, supreme confidence that I could make great things happen, but for a new tagline and a new brochure, I not only created barriers for 2,000 donors who gave a combined $400,000 each year to give again, but I spent $55,000 more than budgeted to produce the worst possible results during the best possible time for fundraising—and made all of these decisions, relying on roughly seven different spreadsheets of names, gift dates and gift amounts.

Consequently, and without much warning nor surprise, I got fired. I was certain, though, I was leaving an organization that didn’t understand me or fundraising, but at the time (and as a young, early 20-something), neither did I. Like many new-to-fundraising professionals, I had more passion than expertise; I had more hubris than self-awareness; and had more “I tried to say” than “I tried to understand.”

I also had more ideas than organized data.

Since that time, I have learned a great deal, but see many, talented fundraising professionals making the same unnecessary mistakes I did. While I do have genuine empathy for passionate people who try to help and fail (or succeed too slowly), I also see the great cost it has for each nonprofit organization, most of whom could not sustain a mistake of $5,000, let alone $55,000.

Within the nonprofit sector, there is a widely known—and not yet wholly addressed—dysfunction in the fundraising profession: We quit or get fired after a comparatively record short amount of time—just 277 days, on average.

The first no-nonsense assessment of this dysfunction came from the study UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.  A joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the report found high levels of turnover and lengthy vacancies in development director positions throughout the sector. More significantly, the study reveals deeper issues that contribute to instability in the development director role, including a lack of basic fundraising systems and inadequate attention to fund development among key board and staff leaders.

For its part, the report quantifies much of what the sector has long known, but fails to accept and address: We have to create the conditions for fundraising success before we can demand it, let alone budget it. In last fifteen years, though, I have worked with more than 200 professional fundraisers and their boards, executive directors and see what we need to understand, embrace, and commit to action.


Data, not opinions or “hunchery,” creates results.

You were hired because you are creative, tenacious and care deeply about the cause you will leverage inspire your community to give. You have great ideas, but they should be considered only in the context of what has been tried before at the organization, why it worked or didn’t work, and what your donors are telling you based upon when they gave, how much and for what reasons. Without that these basic data elements, there is a high probably you won’t success as planned—or at least in the time you’re allotting and/or needed to achieve success.

Data is power and power for fundraisers is know who to ask for how much and when. It’s difficult to do this when you are fundraising with spreadsheets. However, start with the basics and make sure, if you are not yet using donor management software, you work those spreadsheets to do what I call Gift-Level Recency Segmentation:

 

Segment

Attributes

Target Ask Amount

Renewed Donors Made a gift in the current fiscal year Second gift, upgrade/special program appeal
Event Donors Attended an event in the current fiscal year, but has not made an annual gift First gift, flat amount of $25-$40 for a special program
Current Donors Made a gift in the last fiscal year, but not yet in the current year Last gift amount + 50% more; or recurring/monthly giving program enrollment
Lapsed Donors Made a gift two years ago, or prior, but not since or in the current fiscal year Last gift amount, special program appeal
Non-Donors Prospects for whom you have a mailing or email address, but have not ever yet made a gift First gift, flat amount of $25-$40 for a special program

 

If you can create simple segmentation as shown in the chart above, you have a much greater chance of increasing donor retention, renewing current donors and converting event attendees into annual donors. The right donor management software will make your life much easier—it will make this process go smoothly, it will be more accurate and it will allow you to spend time fundraising, instead of “spreadsheeting” behind a desk when you are scrambling for time to get it all done.

 

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi
Content Manager

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

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