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Tips for fundraising stability

David Saint, chair of Action Planning, draws on over 45 years of fundraising experience to share simple but telling insights.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

The fundraising mirage

Most of my clients are looking for ‘fundraising sustainability’ – but that is a mirage, a fantasy, somewhat like ‘perpetual motion’. Fundraising requires constant work, effort and resources, as well as constant testing, refinement and innovation. There is no ‘easy ride’ in fundraising.

Three simple questions

Planning for fundraising should always start with three simple questions: How much do you need? What is the money for? And when do you need it by? Organisations that respond with the equivalent of “As much as possible, by tomorrow, and don’t worry about what it’s for” are doomed to failure. And yet all too many fundraisers have to make do with a brief that is almost as flaky as this.

Size matters

The size of the fundraising target (and, to an extent, the timeframe in which it needs to be raised) is directly relevant to the resource you will need to allocate to raise it. It can also point towards the types of fundraising that will be relevant, and those that simply don’t meet the need.

Facing up to uncomfortable truths

What the money is for will definitely affect which sources you should focus on – some sources are simply not suitable for meeting some types of need. So this information is a crucial element of fundraising planning. At this stage, it doesn’t matter if the honest answer is that the money is needed for something that people won’t want to support, like plugging a pension fund deficit, or covering ‘core costs’. If the fundraiser knows the reality of the situation, they can plan a strategy that addresses that reality (rather than a strategy that stumbles and falls over that reality, when it is finally revealed).

Five headline sources

There are only five ‘headline sources’ of voluntary income – statutory bodies, trusts, companies, community organisations, and individuals. Everything else is either a means of asking from those sources or a means of giving by those sources. By simplifying the task in this way, it becomes easier to see whether you are getting an appropriate proportion of your income from each of these sources and, if not, to work out how to address that.

Stable – or precarious?

Whilst not every ‘headline source’ is relevant for every cause, it is certainly true to say that if your organisation relies exclusively or mostly on just one of these sources, then its fundraising is in danger of being unstable. Worse, if it is reliant on a handful of organisations or individuals within one of those ‘headline sources’ then its fundraising is positively precarious. Informed diversification is the name of the game – having a variety of income streams relevant to your funding need.

Don’t raise awareness – raise money!

Almost every client I ever had has told me that the profile of their charity is too low and that, if only they could raise awareness, they could raise more money. (Interestingly, those clients included two of the top 20 fundraising charities in the UK!) On the whole, people don’t give to a cause because they are ‘aware’ of it – they give because they see a specific need and receive a specific ask. My simple mantra is that you can raise huge amounts of awareness without raising 1p. But you can’t raise even 1p without raising awareness as a by-product. So, if you need to raise money go and raise money. Awareness will follow in its wake.

You get what you pay for (usually!)

So many organisations try to run their fundraising on the cheap. Only this morning I spoke with a Chief Executive who was told by his trustees last week that he had to generate £150k fundraising income this financial year – from a standing start! And there was no suggestion of any additional resource to help him achieve that. As I noted at the beginning of this blog, fundraising is hard work, and it’s time-consuming. There is massive competition for money from all the above-mentioned sources. If your organisation doesn’t invest in its fundraising it will lose out to the competition. Some organisations can only afford modest, organic, incremental investment, and that’s OK. It will just take longer.

Manage those money worries

Very few chief executives can banish their money worries. But they can manage them:

  1. Have a clear understanding of how much is needed, by when, and what for
  2. Develop and gradually implement a balanced fundraising strategy that is not over-dependent on one or two dominant streams
  3. Get everyone on board with the realities of the need, and the fundraising strategy to meet that need – especially the Trustees and senior staff team.
  4. Wisely invest as much as you can afford in resourcing your fundraising (and the less you can afford, the wiser you need to be!)
  5. Take a long term view – some fundraising activities (notably legacies but also, for example, major donors) can take a long time before they pay off.
  6. Regularly monitor the outputs (fundraising activities) and outcomes (money in!) Especially keep a close eye on net income, not gross. Adjust the plan in the light of experience.
  7. Don’t expect miracles – you are less likely to be disappointed!

Action Planning helps not-for-profit organisations increase their impact and effectiveness through a deep understanding of the funding, leadership, personnel and practical challenges they face. Find out more:

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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