Without specific aims, it’s very easy for fundraising teams to lose momentum; to plug away at inefficient activities when something more effective – albeit something unfamiliar and a little daunting – is possible…
To a fundraiser, nothing says ‘sleepless nights’ quite like an income target. In those 4am cold-sweat moments (“what on earth convinced me that amount was feasible?”), it’s tempting to conclude that strategic plans should involve nothing more than a cosy “let’s raise as much as we can”.
However, the price you pay as a charity is to help fewer people and achieve less.
That’s why it makes sense to craft a fundraising strategy with a focus on goals and targets, so that every member of the team (however large or small) understands exactly what they are striving for and why.
1) Don’t pluck figures out of the air
Faced with a blank sheet of paper, the prospect of setting goals and targets can be overwhelming even to an experienced fundraiser – never mind one relatively new to the sector. This is when you need to get methodical.
Start with a mini-audit of the external and internal factors that will impact your fundraising prospects.
This should include a political, economic, social and technological (PEST) analysis and a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis.
There will be crossover between the two but essentially, the first will help you work out what’s happening globally that’s relevant to your plans (a recession or an election looming, for example) and the second will make clear how well – or not - your own organisation is equipped for the next 12 months and beyond (a new charity emerging in your sector or recruitment problems, perhaps).
Of course, unless you’re starting from scratch, you’ll have previous years’ fundraising income to use as a benchmark.
No-one wants to go backwards and it’s healthy to be ambitious – but don’t promise the earth if it’s clearly unrealistic.
You need to find a balance between a target that will stretch your team and a figure you’re confident you can achieve, particularly if decisions about spending commitments are being made solely on the basis of what you raise in the following year.
2) Balance your short-term and long-term goals
In the world of charity fundraising, certainty and sustainability are crucial. If you approach each year with no income guaranteed, those 4am cold sweats will only become longer and more frequent.
Legacies are a prime example. For some charities, gifts in Wills account for at least half of their annual income. It’s a figure that many of us can only dream of.
But adopt the right strategic plans now and you will almost certainly begin to see an increase in legacy income.
In areas such as these, it’s best to come up with some goals which complement the ones you set in pounds and pence rather than being driven solely by income targets.
For example, you could take quantifiable steps to ensure every staff member is comfortable mentioning gifts in Wills to your supporters in the course of any wider conversations.
It almost certainly won’t add much to your bottom line very quickly, but the potential long-term rewards are considerable.
Similarly, set targets around nurturing relationships with existing and potential major donors. It may feel like a luxury but if you sow only one seed that eventually bears fruit, the return on investment can be hugely significant.
3) Remember: everyone’s a fundraiser
Yours may be the name next to the fundraising KPI but it’s always worth remembering and reminding colleagues outside your immediate team of your target and how they contribute to your progress towards it.
It’s not unusual for donations to be inspired by charity staff whose primary role isn’t a fundraising one, particularly if they’re part of a team offering support and information or promoting your medical research.
When you’ve set your fundraising target, share it. Keep the whole charity team updated each month, whether the news is positive or otherwise. Thank them regularly for what they’re doing to help, so that everyone feels motivated and involved.
If income isn’t on track to meet your target, don’t panic. Share the problem, brainstorm solutions, don’t give up.
And take a look at what other charities and even commercial organisations are doing to boost fundraising or build a customer base. If it seems to be working for them, think about how you might adapt it to meet your needs. We call it ‘stealing with pride’.
4) Be flexible
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a fundraising strategy. Every organisation has slightly different needs, depending on factors including headcount, age, positioning and overarching strategy.
Even within an organisation, circumstances can change quickly or over time.
Always listen to what your donors are telling you – either explicitly or implicitly – when you go seeking their support. Talk to them before you set things in stone.
And don’t become obsessed with any target to the extent that you lose your critical judgement about it. Have a plan but be prepared to change it.
5) Enjoy the journey as much as you can
Successful fundraising is hard work. It depends on people and passion and creativity. Those also happen to be good ingredients for a hugely rewarding professional environment – so if you get it right, reaching your goals should involve some fun along the way.
By Geraldine Pipping, director of fundraising, The Brain Tumour Charity