Principles of effective fundraising – A Sales Approach for charities.

First things first. Your charity or non-profit organisation (‘charities’) is a not for profit business, but unless you run it like a business you won’t survive. This means having effective processes and systems, bookkeeping and HR functions, amongst others. But the focus of this paper is on effective fundraising

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that there are many correlations between charities and traditional businesses when it comes to building a vibrant sales culture. And that’s what you want your charity to have – a vibrant sales culture! No matter how mercenary this sounds, you want your charity to be at the forefront of fundraising, to enable you to do the things you want to do.

And the better your fundraising, the more of these things you can do.

So, where do we start? Well, it’s all about understanding the needs of your customers. (Hang on a minute are we in the right blog?)

Yes that’s right your donors are your customers and you must understand their needs.

Consider these fundraising principles:

1.    Have a clear Vision & Mission.

Your vision is what you aspire to be. Your mission is your purpose, or the value you add to society. Achieving your mission should point you in the direction of achieving your vision. Each of your donors will be interested in how their contribution to your business has helped you achieve your purpose, in other words how they’ve helped society.

Traditional businesses often struggle with defining their vision and mission but for a charity there should be no such struggle.


2.    Understand the needs of your donors

What? Are you sure this isn’t a sales blog?

No it’s not, but like sales, fundraising is all about building relationships with your donors and fully understanding their needs. The more you understand them, and their reasons for giving to your charity, the more you will able to communicate with them on an equal basis and build a strong relationship with them.

This doesn’t just apply to your fundraising team. As in traditional businesses where ‘around customers everybody sells’, in your charity fundraising is everybody’s responsibility including (actually especially) your Board of Trustees.

Once a donor is on board with you, you should work hard to include them in your fundraising efforts, by asking them to donate further, assist you with sponsoring fundraising events and recommending other donors or sources of donations.

Your donors are your customers. They will be looking for something of value and what’s in it (benefit) for them. You need to understand them to enable you to see what the benefit is that they’re looking for when they donate to your charity.

3.    Build a customer (donor) focussed culture.

With the government’s austerity cuts, more and more charities are looking to find alternative sources of funding. Having said that, there is no shortage of corporates and individuals looking to donate to worthwhile causes.

The first step in building this culture is to provide great service to your donors. Be reliable in everything you do, be responsive to them, be courteous and competent and fully understand their needs. Delight them in everything you do. When they donate, thank them! Tell them the story behind how the money was used and how they might have helped less fortunate individuals. If it’s for research, talk them through the possible outcomes (benefits) of their donations.

Great service is a good start, but it’s not enough. Your donors will donate to your charity for a reason. If your reason isn’t strong or compelling enough, or if they can’t see an obvious benefit, then they’ll take their donation elsewhere.

Make your culture inclusive for your donors. Involve them in everything that you do, don’t just take their money. Get them to help with your other fundraising efforts and to become advocates for you.

4.    Prospect effectively!

This is now sounding like a sales blog! In sales scenarios we ask businesses to imagine what their ideal customer looks like and then work out how they will meet them. Why should this be any different in a charity?

Try this process to ensure effective fundraising:

·         Relationship manage your existing donors. Perhaps segment them into Gold, Silver & Bronze categories based on the size of their donation and value to your charity in terms of being an advocate and other fundraising activities.

Develop relationship building activities based on their category (value) and don’t be afraid to ask for further donations of funds or their time.

·         Develop your own Unique Selling Points (USPs) and look for businesses that have a similar outlook to your own. These are your Suspects – you suspect they might want to donate to you but you don’t know yet as you haven’t met them.

·         Get in touch with them and start to build a relationship with them if they seem like a viable source of donations. These are your Prospects – businesses or individuals that you are confidant will support you but haven’t done so yet. You should nurture and develop them and you need to build strong relationships with them.

5.    Maximise the activities of your fundraisers.

In fundraising, as in sales, everything you do is QDQ.

Have your fundraisers (and your Trustees for that matter) commit to activity plans and hold them accountable for completing them. Yes the amount of funds your charity raises is important, but the activity that your fundraisers follow to raise these funds, and build your culture, is more important for your future.

In Summary

Effective fundraising in your charity will not happen by accident. It takes clear leadership & proactive management of all team members to deliver your mission and help you drive towards your vision.

Too often fundraisers are left to their own devices while the leadership and board cross their fingers in the hope that the fundraisers will come good.

Your charity is too important to leave any of this to chance, so get your fundraising team committed to completing the right activity to meet your targets. Then hold them accountable for completing this activity, and while you’re at it do the same thing with your Trustees.



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Brendan Walsh