Mistake #2 – Failing to Ask Volunteers for a Cash Donation

I decided to start my blog with short articles about mistakes I have seen many nonprofits make, and identify some things that will work better. Number one was “Focus on Grants and Corporate Sponsors” instead of individuals. Today I want to focus on the second biggest mistake: Failing to ask volunteers for a cash donation.

Many fundraising leaders believe they can’t ask volunteers for money when they already give their time. Or they assume volunteers are not interesting in making a donation, which is why they volunteer, and that efforts would be better spent on donors who are more likely to give.

What’s the problem with these beliefs? Everything. When an organization makes an assumption about volunteers and their willingness to give or giving capacity, they almost always leave money on the table. What’s even worse is that they can create a strain on what was a positive relationship that can lead to hurt feelings or even the loss of a volunteer and a donor.

I once served on the board for a large organization involved in a capital campaign. This organization used hundreds of volunteers. When we got to the public phase of the campaign, the staff felt very strongly that the volunteers were already giving time and would be offended if asked to contribute cash to the new building. Those volunteers heard about the campaign through the newsletter and were never asked directly to give. I knew several of those volunteers personally and a few of them approached me as a board member and confided their feelings:
“I was really disappointed to find out the way everyone else did. You would think that since I’m here every week I would hear about the new building before my friend who has only been here once.”
“Why didn’t they ask me for a donation? Can’t they see how committed I am? Maybe they haven’t noticed.”

One person even said, “If they had asked me, my husband and I would have donated [a very large amount – enough to have a room named after them], but he’s so offended that I’m not sure what we will do now. Do they think that we can’t afford it just because I volunteer?”

You don’t want to risk having your volunteers feel this way! The Corporation for National and Community Service puts out an annual research report called Volunteering and Civic Life in America (www.nationalservice.gov/impact-our-nation/research-and-reports/volunteering-america). They found that volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than nonvolunteers.

I’m not saying that every volunteer in your organization is dying to give you cash, but don’t leave them out of the loop. Don’t assume they are not interested in giving. They see what you do and how you help more closely than others, and they probably see how they money could be spent. Don’t deny them an opportunity to give in more than one way.

The next big mistake I see nonprofits make is when they spend more effort on finding new donors instead of cultivating existing or past donors. Is your organization guilty of this? Stay tuned!

Posted in Fundraising Mistakes

The 5 Biggest Fundraising Mistakes – #1: Focus on Grants and Corporate Sponsors

With 20 years of fundraising experience, I have seen organizations make the same mistakes over and over again. Are you making these same mistakes?

The first mistake I see is too many organizations spending a bulk of their fundraising efforts on grant writing and seeking corporate donors/sponsors. They hear about, or have experienced, that one big check arriving to save the day. It seems to make sense to spend most of their time looking for the next big check. The problem with that theory is that 72% of all money given to charity comes from individuals (Giving USA 2014 Report). A great predictor of long term fundraising success is having a diversity of funding sources, including many individual donors who give small amounts, rather than dependence on one large grant that could be given to another organization next year.

I often hear nonprofit leaders (especially board members) asking how we can get money from corporations. They figure: big corporations = big money for nonprofits. Well, when you look at the big picture, that doesn’t prove true. Out of all the money given to charity in 2013, only 5% of it came from corporations AND over half of that percentage was actually given in-kind (products and services rather than cash). Yes, we do need to get corporations involved in our events. Yes, of course we need to have a grant program. But if you really want to increase your fundraising potential, you should spend the bulk of your fundraising time cultivating relationships with your individual donors.

Do you know who your top 25 donors are right now? Have you ever asked them why they donate to your organization? Do you know what is considered a major gift for your organization?

If your budget is currently too dependent on foundations and corporations, consider spending more time focusing on individual contributions. If you’re not sure how, give me a call. I would be happy to help.

The next big mistake I see nonprofits make is when they fail to ask their volunteers for a cash donation. More on that in my next blog post.

Posted in Fundraising Mistakes