The Fundraising Committee: Reflecting on a Year Part II

Abigail HarmonA few weeks ago I wrote Part I of what I experienced and learned when I looked back at my first year as the chair of a fundraising committee. Two themes surfaced through the year. The first was how to ask donors for gifts. As an organization, did we want a Direct “ask” or Soft “ask.” Click here to read Part I of The Fundraising Committee: Reflecting on a Year. The second theme I perceived was whether to focus our limited resources on new donors or previous donors (LYBUNTs, SYBUNTs and the like).

In an article I posted last September, I felt that we had to prioritize finding new donors (You can read that article by clicking here). I was able to encourage this because at this nonprofit, the fundraising committee is charged with making this strategic decision. (I would like to be clear that this is not usually a stand alone board decision). That was not to say that we were ignoring LYBUNTs and SYBUNTS but the total number of donors was low and I thought it was important to increase significantly the number of new donors to account for the natural attrition of donors who will never renew their support each year. Now that the fiscal year is complete, was this the right decision?

New Donors vs. LYBUNTs
But it is never an “either/or.” After the December annual appeal we realized that two of our major donors had yet to give. And one had not given the year before. In our organization, one or two major donors who do not contribute can make the difference between achieving our goals.

While we don’t know exactly why this happened, we began to suspect that they were simply not directly asked – in a soft or direct way. We were communicating with them each year in other ways and stewarding them as donors but somehow the actual ask did not happen.

As it turns out, one of the lapsed major donors – the one who had not given in the previous year either- did not return any emails or phone calls. But knowing that we were trying to ask him was enough to get a renewal. And to help us reach our fundraising goals.

I was left with the lesson that we all know and sometimes forget. There is no doubt that the organization needs to increase its donor base but that is a long term strategy. You can never forget your short-term goals. Fortunately, we were watching trends early enough to self correct.

New Donors are essential when the original donors have been giving for 25 years.
I will stand by my original hypothesis that the organization needs new donors. While the founding donors continue to feel good about giving to the organization and our community, they want to know their incredible legacy will continue for years to come and that has to include broadening the donor base.

In the end, the board came up with an array of creative options to find new donors and increase our email mailing list. Some were simple enough to put in place – clipboards with signup sheets at every event. Some required specific timing – sending someone to represent us at every back-to-school night in the district in the fall to collect names and create awareness (an easy way for board members to support fundraising if they feel uncomfortable asking for donations). And some will require more work but build a strong connection to the mission – like events in various homes to showcase the amazing programs we bring to the schools.

As we consider our priorities for the coming year, I am hoping we will find many opportunities to grow and deepen our relationships. What nonprofit could ask for more?