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Good for everyone… non-profit, fundraiser and agency

Yesterday, I talked about 10 things an agency should tell a non-profit about hiring a fundraiser. Here’s a little recap.

  1. Fundraising is a long-term investment which cannot be handled by one person alone.
  2. Direct mail appeals require a mix of skills – writer, graphic designer, web developer, printer and mailhouse – which cannot be found in one person alone.
  3. Donor nurture requires a proper donor database (not an Excel spreadsheet).
  4. You need nice people to accept donations by phone. You need simple online forms to get donations through your website.
  5. Recruiting monthly givers, major givers and bequestors takes years and requires a mixture of mail, telephone and face-to-face activities. And nope, your fundraiser can’t do it all.
  6. New donors need special treatment to get the second gift as soon as possible.
  7. Your administrative staff must get receipts and thank yous out fast to donors. Your fundraiser really shouldn’t be doing admin like this.
  8. Your donor relations staff must be warm and friendly to donors who ring up with questions and complaints.
  9. The CEO and Board must be involved in fundraising activities.
  10. Your fundraiser will need a budget.

And I complained that agencies do not explain these things. Because I believe they want to ensure the non-profit will still need the agency and its services.

But far from losing opportunities for consulting work, an agency should actually gain work if a fundraiser is empowered to do her job.

After all, if a non-profit really understood the implications of the 10 things, then they would not expect one person to do it all. And a competent agency or consultant could fill the obvious gaps during the charity’s fundraising journey.

Let’s compare the two scenarios.

Scenario 1

A fundraising agency recommends a non-profit hire a fundraiser but doesn’t explain what this person needs to succeed. The charity hires a competent fundraiser. She gets no budget.

She struggles to get a direct mail appeal out because she has to work through the marketing or communications officer who has other priorities and doesn’t understand direct mail copywriting anyway. She has to print all the letters in-house knowing some of the names in the Excel spreadsheet are several years old but there’s no way of excluding them.

When the appeal goes out, some people call up to donate but the receptionist who takes the calls is obviously in the middle of something else and doesn’t know how to take credit card details.

The new fundraiser can see from the web traffic logs that people are clicking on the Donate button on the website. But they get taken to a page where they have to download a form, print it out and fill it in and post it.

The admin staff are too busy with their existing work to process donations in a timely fashion. And it’s too much trouble to include a thank you letter with the receipt.

The fundraiser then has to tally up the donations manually in Excel as there is no donor database.

She suggests to her manager that the CEO makes phone calls to 10 donors who have previously given over $1000. He knows at least three of them personally and met the others at various events. He can thank them for their past support and ask them for a gift as part of this appeal. The CEO comes back and tells her that’s her job.

She does it but she’s new to the organisation and has not yet had a chance to build up relationships with these donors. So although she gets a chance to introduce herself, the response is poor.

The appeal barely breaks even. It’s so very hard for this fundraiser to build up even small wins. So the management asks why would it be worthwhile to engage the original fundraising agency. “Direct mail isn’t working for us,” they say.

Is it surprising that within six months this fundraiser is very frustrated by the lack of budget, resources and support?

Scenario 2

A fundraising agency fully explained to a non-profit what will be required for a new fundraiser to succeed. The charity hires a competent fundraiser. It’s a small non-profit so she’s given a small budget. It’s not great but at least it’s something.

Despite the small budget, she’s encouraged when the CEO introduces her to the rest of the staff. And she finds he’s already explained to key staff that she’s the fundraiser and that she’ll be trying out some things that haven’t been done before. And she can ask for help if she needs it.

When it comes to her first direct mail appeal, she outsources the copywriting and graphic design to the original agency as nobody in-house really has the skills for direct response. She finds they do a great job and seem really knowledgeable about fundraising.

And the web officer has been fantastic about her suggestions to make the donation page really user-friendly. He’s even willing to set up a special page for this appeal.

Yes, she has to print the letters in-house. She’s stuck with the horrible Excel database for now but the CEO says they’ll get a new database in next year’s budget. At least it’s not forever.

And the admin people are really busy but they’re willing to keep a record of the totals as they process the donations.

The CEO has insisted the two ladies who answer the phone must get some training in handling the credit card machine so they can accept donations over the phone.

And the CEO has agreed to call 10 major donors, several of whom he knows. He’s not keen on the idea but she gives him a script he can use. He does it, has a chat to them, and makes the ask. And actually secures three gifts! None of them are million dollar gifts but all are more than what those donors have given before. He’s so enthused that he actually offers to call even more donors.

When the results from the appeal are tallied up, they find they have made $30,000 from this one appeal instead of $4000. They spent more because they paid the agency but they raised more too.

The fundraiser is happy because despite the low budget, she feels supported by the CEO and the team. The non-profit is happy because they raised money just from one appeal. And the agency is happy because they got some work out of it… and will get more work in future because the results were good.


Of course, the happy situation in Scenario 2 does not always happen. You may be an agency or consultant who has explained to your client in good faith what a new fundraiser will need to be successful.

But the non-profit in question insists on being obtuse. They believe existing overloaded staff can absorb all the fundraising functions. Or they are lamenting “if only we can find a good fundraiser who can also write, design, manage a database, process the donations and stand on his head while juggling spoons”. Or they can’t buy into a culture of fundraising because secretly they hate it. Or… you get the gist.

In other words, they just don’t get it. Well, at least you’ve done the right thing by your client. Maybe they just have to learn the hard way.

Let me know what you think below. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.


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