Every organization needs more money. Most nonprofits have great missions that make the world a better place, so why are some better at raising money than others? What makes some organizations better at attracting those prospects who are on every organization’s list? It’s the ability to avoid common development mistakes.

Fundraising isn’t rocket science. But there is science involved for sure, and some art, too. Fundraising is relational and intentional. It requires both planning and execution, and rarely succeeds without both. Following are some common development mistakes I have witnessed and have even made myself. How many of these mistakes does your organization make?

  • Thinking the money will come because you have a need. Needy organizations exist everywhere. You must have a deliberate and sustainable fundraising plan. Goals should be realistic and put in writing. Everyone should know their role and be accountable to the plan.
  • Not having a clear and compelling case for support. Donors want to know exactly how their gifts will be used, and they’re counting on you to engage them in a call for action. You should be able to articulate your mission in 20-30 seconds. Clear messaging about the impact their giving will have on your mission gets people excited. Too much or unclear information can be overwhelming, leaving your potential donor confused.
  • Asking too soon. I have seen this happen so many times – an organization doesn’t spend enough time getting to know a donor’s likes and interests so that they can match them to their organization’s needs. The end result is money left on the table, or worse yet, an unfulfilled ask. Spending the time to excite and engage your supporters leads to bigger and often repeated gifts.
  • Not asking for a specific gift amount. I have rarely been surprised with a bigger gift than I asked for. But, I have been given many token gifts when I failed to ask for a specific gift amount. Think about your own giving. Unless someone asks you for a specific amount, do you typically stretch to make a big gift? I will consider any ask, but don’t be surprised by my small gift if you simply ask me to participate.
  • Failing to thank AND steward your donors. There is a difference between sending a gift acknowledgement and stewarding a donor. Successful organizations do both. The acknowledgement lets the donor know that you received their gift and plan to use it in the manner in which they directed. Stewardship makes the donor an investor in the organization’s mission and strengthens the relationship. Stewardship is more than simply thanking donors for their gifts – it’s a philosophy centered around treating donors as partners in your work by demonstrating how their gifts make a difference.

Successful organizations make fundraising look easy, but behind the scenes there is a lot of intentional planning and execution behind the success. Assess your organization’s fundraising efforts to better understand the mistakes you are making. Only then can you create a holistic plan to strengthen your fundraising efforts, and your bottom line.

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The generous will prosper: those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.
(Proverbs 11:25)

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