Raise More Money This Year: Habits of Successful Fundraisers

It’s a fresh new year, and that means it’s a brand new opportunity to have your best fundraising year yet!  It may not be obvious how big gifts or triumphant solicitations come about, especially when we only see the sensational end result without seeing the work that was dedicated.  While there are surely stories of “when that huge gift fell right into a fundraiser’s lap,” the more common – and more predictable – story is that successful fundraising happens from developing daily habits that lead to success.

Here are 10 small (but mighty) habits that will help you raise more money this year:

1. Keep moving forward

For me, this is the first habit to master because fundraising and developing gifts is hard work! Any good fundraiser will encourage stretch gifts or share the vision of transformational projects. Both of these endeavors inherently means that you’ll make a number of solicitations, not all of which will be successful. The point is to keep moving forward, keep dreaming big, and keep in mind the impact of the project for which you’re asking support. It matters, and the world needs it.

2. Focus on one person at a time

Depending on your portfolio, you could be managing several (or hundreds!) of donor relationships. That’s some serious juggling. The point here, though, is to make sure that you’re focusing on each person, preferably the one you’re currently talking to, at a time. Prepare for your time with them like you really care about them. When you’re with them, really listen to understand their life, perspective, and values a little more. Most of us don’t get much FULL ATTENTION from others these days. Focusing on them will do your donors – and you! – good.

3. Plan the day

A favorite saying of mine: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Listen, we live in a busy world, and so much of that “busyness” is unproductive work or work that we invent for ourselves to procrastinate on the REAL work that we need to do. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, especially when you don’t harness what time you do have. Take 10 minutes every morning (or even better, 10 minutes at the end of the previous day) to plan the day and the key tasks that you must accomplish before quitting time. Plan dedicated time to read and respond to email, make prospecting calls, and create plans for upcoming meetings. These types of tasks usually seem less urgent, but they are crucial to a successful fundraising pipeline.

4. Look for opportunities everywhere

I’ll spare you the “power of positive thinking” stuff that I love and just say that when you believe there are plenty of opportunities out there and that people want – wait, NEED – to hear about your cause and why it’s important… you’ll find that to be true. Having a growth mindset means that you see the world as full of promise, and you feel that your capacity to capture success is unlimited. Donors are attracted to enthusiastic, optimistic fundraisers. Not only that, but enthusiastic, optimistic fundraisers are also more likely to keep moving forward (see habit 1) and enjoy the work that they do.

5. See the other side (and the upside)

One of my favorite parts of professional fundraising is getting to know donors and becoming part of their lives for a time. In this job, you learn about other people’s families, dreams, childhoods, and legacies. Even when the answer to a solicitation or a request for donation is “no,” there is still a relationship there. I also like to remind myself that there are other sides to the prospective donor’s story that I don’t know… maybe there’s an illness in the family, a child about to enter college, a home renovation nightmare following a natural disaster… you can’t always know why your ask was turned down, however trying to see the other side and giving the prospective donor the benefit of the doubt will ensure that when the time IS right, you’ll be invited back to receive a gift.

6. Learn from mistakes

News flash: if you haven’t ever been rejected in a solicitation or request for support – you will be. Usually, it will be more about timing or life circumstance (see habit 5), but every now and then, you will miss the mark or make a mistake. Perhaps you overshot your estimate of what was a reasonable ask. Maybe you asked for support for a project that wasn’t an exact match with the donor’s interests. Or my biggest fear – you showed up to a solicitation with the wrong name on the proposal! Mistakes happen. You do your best to plan and prepare (see habits 2 and 3), and yet, still mistakes happen. It’s OK. Your intent to do good work and further a good cause counts more than technique. And to be clear, technique counts a lot – so learn from your mistakes and do better next time. (Bonus points for being vulnerable and sharing what you learned with others so that THEY don’t have to make the same mistakes!)

7. Focus on what matters

Like I said in Habit 6, being rooted in your purpose will matter more than any fundraising tactic out there. In the work of raising money, where your heart is at matters more than how beautiful your proposals are or how fancy the restaurant is where you treat a donor to lunch. The impact of the gift, the problem that this gift will solve should always be your focus. I cringe a little when fundraisers get wrapped up in tax-deduction and gift recognition details. Those are nice perks and many savvy donors expect them, but ALL donors give because of need to make a difference it satisfies within them. Find that need, hold onto it for dear life, and be bold in asking for support to achieve great things.

8. Make time for personal interests

Personal interests are hobbies or activities you enjoy doing on your free time. You probably have many, and hopefully, some of those interests have nothing to do with fundraising or the cause that you work or volunteer with. Unplugging from your to-do lists and tasks is a critically important habit to being successful because it helps you avoid burnout and keeps you well-rounded and, well, sane. Even with volunteering, which I would say is a personal interest of mine, I’m careful not to take on too many “fundraising” roles across the organizations I associate with. Mostly because I don’t want to get burned out on asking for support, but also because I don’t want to confuse the communities I raise money in when I ask them for their gift.

9. Set daily goals

Big, annual goals are great roadmaps for where you’re going in the mid-term, and unfortunately, they aren’t that useful in the day-to-day. Like planning your day (see habit 3), having some daily goals will help you know if you’ve been successful without having to wait all year to look backward. I tend to set goals around daily activities that lead up to a big yearly fundraising goal, things like: putting new leads into my pipeline, having meaningful interactions (phone or face-to-face), presenting solicitations or proposals, or following up with past donors. Try setting daily goals like, “qualify 5 new prospects this week” or “schedule 10 hours of face-to-face meetings for next week” to help you track toward your big goal.

10. Ask how you can help donors

As a fundraiser, it’s your job to ask donors to help you and your cause. Every one in a while, ask your donor how you can help them! It might be as simple as they’d like a tour of your facilities, or they want tickets to your production or tournament, or perhaps they would simply like a phone call from the director to hear the vision for the gift. Getting into the habit as seeing the relationship with your donors as a two-way street by reciprocating concern for what they want and need will ensure they feel great about their gift, and they keep giving.

 

While fundraising trends and tactics will come and go, there are some consistent and reliable habits that you can develop as a fundraiser that will help you raise more money and do it predictably. Another resource for developing solid fundraising fundamentals is my course, Fundraising 101.