Seven Secrets of Successful Fundraising*

As Civil Society Fundraising magazine has just republished my Seven Fundraising Myths piece I thought I would complement it with something on what makes good fundraising.

There’s actually nothing remotely mysterious about the practice of fundraising but if you’ll accept the rhetorical flourish, here are my secrets for how to be successful in all types of fundraising;

1. Believe in the cause

We now have a fundraising profession with people, like me, who might work in their career for many charities. However, I still feel that if you are to sell any cause, first you have to believe in it. You don’t need to believe everything about the cause or what your organisation does but you do need to find a kernel that you can be really passionate about and to be able to articulate that passion. If you can’t, find another job.

2. Take the long view

Fundraising success is rarely achieved overnight and if it is, it is probably nothing that you did that brought it about. Fundraising is founded upon relationships and these take time to be built and nurtured. A programme needs to be built, patiently and methodically. So what matters is return on investment in the long term.

Sometimes you can find short cuts that work but very often in the words of that great fundraising guru, Samwise Gamgee, “short cuts mean long delays”.

3. Have a plan

You always need a plan. It doesn’t have to be 300 pages long and contain the answer to life, the universe and everything. In fact much better if it’s a few bullet points written on the back of a table napkin. But a clear objective and a framework for how you’re going to get there and know that you’ve arrived, is essential. (Here’s a good plan. Take one ring of power. Transport to Cracks of Doom. Throw in. End power of Sauron. Implementation notes: Try not to get killed on the way).

4. Focus on what’s important

One of the problems with fundraising programmes is that there’s just so much stuff. So many types of fundraising, areas of activity and things you could do. So you can get drowned in the detail and do end up with the 300 page document that can be summarised as try to do everything, all at the same time. In any fundraising programme there are a handful of really critical areas that you can significantly influence. Make sure you know what they are, focus on them and spend as little time on everything else as possible.

5. Be bold

We’re changing the world here, right? So how is let’s increase income by 5% a year an adequate strategy? (I have banged on about this before). There’s a difference between being bold and being reckless but, essentially, if you aren’t prepared to take risks you’re not going to get anywhere anytime soon. So take some big risks but think carefully about the ones you choose and, crucially, what you do if they don’t work out. Because some things won’t work.

6. Challenge everything

Fundraising is full of received wisdom (pieces such as this one) and lots of people will have opinions about what you should do. Listen to everyone’s idea (within reason) but don’t accept them unless they can be proven. Every statement about what will or won’t work in fundraising for any particular organisation at any one time is just an opinion founded on assumptions. Dig out those assumptions and test them rigorously. Find the approaches that work and carrying on refining and re-testing them.

7. Own your numbers

Fundraising might be about relationships but all those relationships ought to be capable of being quantified and your success of failure will certainly be measured by the numbers you produce. So never, ever leave those numbers to someone else to determine without you. If numbers aren’t your thing (although I’d question whether fundraising would be a wise career choice) get someone to help you really understand the key metrics, what they are based on and what they mean.

So, like all such lists, a highly subjective take on how to achieve success in fundraising heavily flavoured by personal preoccupations and prejudices. But not too way off the mark I think. Fundraising is mostly an art but with a good dollop of science or at least sums. Apply a healthy serving of common sense and objective scepticism, you won’t go far wrong I think.

*With apologies for the gratuitous Lord of the Rings references. Once a geek…



4 thoughts on “Seven Secrets of Successful Fundraising*

  1. Hi Tobin, Thank you for your article. You spurred a thought, and maybe you can bring me to a greater sense of sanity.

    I am referring to #5 Be Bold. “We’re changing the world here right”? Insightfully you ended that sentence with a question mark?

    Do we really change the world? Do we think our efforts are really more than a pin prick, if even that? A book that I have recently been reading it titled “When Helping Hurts”. Really the title alone should spur some thoughts. And yes, the wrong kind of helping can actually do more damage.

    Also a while back I read a article entitled “Can Africa be Saved”? There were 6 authors as I recall. Four out of the 6 said No. Two of the 6 said, yes with a emphatic “but”.

    I am not being negative here. But I do think it is important to be very realistic about where we all fit in.

    Do you have any thoughts on this, especially when it comes to our expectations and any changes that are made in the world?

    When one looks around, we are in a sad state of affairs, aka, take a look at the paper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s