Is this fundraising? (and other important questions!)

As fundraisers, we often get tasked with a variety of work, some of which comes under the job description item ‘perform other duties as assigned.’ I once went to a talk where the speaker encouraged everyone in the room to ask themselves ‘is this fundraising?’ when given work outside their usual remit.

By simply asking this question, it allows you to think of the benefits of the work you are doing and what the ultimate outcome may be. Sometimes, you notice that work that seems unimportant actually IS fundraising, such as analysing data for a future campaign or going to lunch with a supporter and not asking for a donation. Other times, work that seems like it is fundraising actually isn’t, such as checking emails or ordering envelopes / letterhead / brochures. (These last three are still important tasks, but they are not fundraising and should not as a rule, be carried out by fundraisers, whose time could be better spent engaging donors and planning campaigns.)

‘Is it important?’ And ‘Is it urgent?’

Another way to step back and prioritise work is by using the Eisenhower Box.


To quote Drake Baer ‘If you’re checking your email so often that it’s preventing you from getting any actual work done, you’re mistaking urgency for importance.’ (you can read his take on this subject here)

By using the Eisenhower Box you can decipher important work from urgent work and react accordingly. As a rule, I personally block out an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon to respond to emails. Otherwise, I get so bogged down in urgent but unimportant email responses that by 3pm I’ve been so busy that I’ve done nothing on my ‘to-do’ list! And THAT, certainly is NOT fundraising!

Try asking ‘is this fundraising?’ at least once a day and let me know how you get on!



New donors needed? Try looking back!

In a world where your charity is fighting against thousands of others to be heard by potential donors, acquisition is hard. Very hard! So hard in fact, that return rates on an acquisition mailing average around just 1 – 2%! They also cost a lot and in a small non-profit like mine that is funding that could be used much more effectively elsewhere. This is why as fundraisers we should all be addressing the ever-present leaky bucket of donors. Keeping relationships fresh and engaging donors in our work is essential and helps to provide key funding over time. Retention after all, is the new acquisition! (Ways to do that will be in a separate blog post!)

But, what should we do about those who have given in the past and dropped off into the pit of ‘previous donors’? People, who were once invested in our charities but for some reason, stopped giving. Well, in my experience, reengaging with them provides much better results than trying to find new people to get involved in your organisation! They already know your mission, they already know what services you provide and the best part is, they have already given! Going back to these people even after a number of years, is both beneficial to your organisation AND helps further your fundraising.

I work at a small membership organisation, and all everyone talks about is how we need to increase the number of members we have. But, without a marketing budget and with very little funding available for gaining new members, there is a limited amount that can be done that makes a real impact. I am sure this rings true with many non-membership organisations when talking about getting new donors too!

Therefore, instead of wasting time and money on an acquisition initiative, I chose to look back. I looked back ten years in fact! I invested time and energy into re-engaging with our ‘lapsed members’ from the last ten years, which resulted in a fantastic 10% increase of our total membership! Some of these people didn’t even realise they were no longer members and were happy to re-join! Some, decided to start giving monthly and some had not given since 2006 yet still knew how we were doing and were delighted to get involved again. All it took was a simple ‘As a previous member, we thought we would update you on how we are doing’ message, which included a ‘renew your membership’ card!

One lesson I learnt from this particular initiative was to trust my instincts. There was a lot of negativity from fellow staff surrounding this idea at first. A lot of comments like ‘people from ten years ago won’t renew!’, ‘why are you wasting time on people who have stopped their memberships?’ etc etc. My response was, ‘if we don’t ask them, we definitely won’t regain their support!’

As fundraisers we know that people give because they are asked and it rings true that people also re-engage with your cause because they are asked.

Looking for new members or donors? Try looking back and let me know how it works for you! It also provides a great opportunity to check your data is of good quality!


Proud to be a fundraiser

Fundraisers should use pride, not apology, when asking for a gift for a charity that is doing good work. – Henry Rosso

Over the last year, fundraisers and non-profit organisations have taken a bashing in the media. However, I think I speak for many fundraisers when I say that we are not the cold-hearted, money-grabbing villains that many papers would have the public believe. Many fundraisers care deeply about the projects made possible by their work and are genuinely grateful to donors for helping to make dreams a reality for hundreds of recipients.

Why then, are fundraisers as a whole, expected to bow down and apologise for our chosen profession? I am proud of the work I do and I honestly care about the work my charity makes possible. I know many wonderful fundraisers and I refuse to be ashamed of the profession that I truly believe helps to change the world!

‘Instead of hanging our heads in shame the sector should be uniting and shouting from the rooftops about the amazing work we do, work which is only made possible by asking people for money.’ Anonymous quote from an article in the Guardian, which you can read below.

#NotAshamed #FundraisingIsBeautiful #Proud

Creating conversations

Gaining support is all about relationships, getting people involved and creating conversations. If people are talking about your cause, the more likely it is to get support.

Creating conversations is hard, especially if your charities’ vision is complex/niche/specific. However, once you find an area to hook onto, you can make a significant impact through talking to the right people.

Conversations don’t always need to be about the end game, they could just be about a one-off project, an anniversary, a particularly great outcome or even about what could happen if the outcome is not what the charity is aiming for. That could be the most effective conversation of all!

This video demonstrates the impact of such an approach and has resonated with me ever since I first watched it. Always aim to create conversations about your cause.

What conversations have you created?

How ‘Thank you’ letters can make a difference


As an individual giving officer, it often feels like all I do is send out letters; ask letters, thank you letters, follow up letters and even more thank you letters. Working in a small, specialist charity that very few people have even heard of means our donor relationships have to be exceptional. Thank you letters really do make all the difference and a recent example explains how attention to detail can bring fruitful results and really benefit your charity’s image.

The small non-profit I work for have never before had the resources or the time to really pay attention to their donors properly. Fortunately, a need for better relationships was identified and my employment was the outcome. One of my main aims is to vastly improve donor relations and increase income from individuals. As many of you know, relationships take time (all relationships, not just fundraising ones!). For example, you cannot ask a girl to marry you after taking her out for one drink! You have to ask her if she had a nice time and maybe go to dinner, then the cinema, then a holiday, then you have a relationship, which still needs constant work and nurturing before you’re ready to pop the big question!

It is much the same in fundraising. You can’t meet someone and immediately go in for a major gift. You have to get to know them, find out why they got involved in the organisation in the first place, let them know that their contribution is valued and then you have a relationship where it might be appropriate to ask them for more significant gifts.

Early on, I managed my CEOs expectations and let her know this would be a slow journey. I started by making sure all donors were thanked within a week of a donation being received. I then started phoning donors giving larger sums and then I started looking at donors who have been loyal supporters for a number of years, giving regularly, without being thanked! These donors, I thought, needed special acknowledgement. After a bit of deliberation, I decided to hand write 80 thank you letters to our regular donors. A challenge? Yes! Time consuming? Yes! Worth it? YES!

I thanked them and I thanked them properly for the first time since, I suspect, their standing orders had begun! I made sure each was entirely hand-written (luckily my writing is neat!) and I included a sum of their total gifts to date, detailing what a difference this money had made. It took nearly two weeks but I truly believe it was a worthwhile exercise and just a week after they had all been sent, I received a beautiful letter in return;

“It was a rare delight these days to receive such a beautifully handwritten letter. How do you manage it, without a single correction? Anyway, it has induced me to increase our monthly contribution.”

I was truly delighted to receive this reply, which also told me of the sad passing of their son who had been the reason they gave to us in the first place. I made a real connection with this donor and they had appreciated the effort and personal touch. Later that month, I discovered that not only had they increased their monthly gift, but they had actually doubled it! A fantastic outcome! Of course, they received another hand written thank you letter detailing our gratitude.

This method of thanking, not only increased income to our charity, but also greatly improved our relationship with a number of donors, which in turn, improved our public image. Donor relationships are the key to good fundraising long-term. After all, people give to people!

What are your experiences with thank you letters? Do you think they are worth the time and energy? I’d be delighted to chat with anyone on this subject and swap ideas and methods so please do get in touch!