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Seven mistakes fundraisers are making

Fundraisers pay attention to a lot of things but often forget to make note of the mistakes they might be making. They tend to focus on what’s next - and not on what’s happened. After all, your board or executive director expect you to accomplish the fundraising work of three people with less than desirable resources, so the only way to keep your head above water is to keep moving forward.

Still, to fundraise successfully (and to do ANYTHING, really) it is important to look back at missteps – and learn from them. Small mistakes happen all the time, in every organization – but, fixing them can mean big dollars and smoother sailing.

1. Not having processes in place

We are oftentimes approached by nonprofits and clients alike to create their internal fundraising policies and procedures. Written policies and procedures, like thank you letters, gift entry, data entry, stewardship materials and post-donation communications are essential to a well-run development department. It takes a lot of time and resources to solicit, collect and process a donation  – and ”small” mistakes such as having a typo in a someone’s name, sending a late or incorrect thank you letter or not continuing communication because of an error in a mailing/email list can ruin relationships with donors.

To avoid problems such as these, make sure you have fundraising processes in place. Processes should be easy to follow. They may not cover every possible scenario, but they should give your entire staff guidelines on what to do next with your donations and donors.

If you have procedures in place, that’s great – but do you know what they are?

2. Not knowing your processes

We all work very hard to attract the donors that we have. Some gifts may have taken years of meetings and tours to finally come to fruition. You have put in a ton of time and effort with these donors – so, you should know what’s next for them.

Consider these questions: Do you know what your thank you letters look like? Do your donors receive a separate receipt? Are they added to a mailing list?

Being on the front lines means always looking for the next gift – but you can’t forget the donors you just worked so hard to get. Although you may not be involved with those items (or at a small shop, you might be), you should know what your donors are receiving from your organization. And knowing your processes will help you keep track of this information.

3. Not capitalizing on momentum

I worked in events for a very long time and I know the easiest thing to do after an event is to clean up and forget about it until next year.


If you have had a successful event, Giving Tuesday campaign, tour of a new building or meeting with a prospective donor, don’t just make your notes, set your reminder to follow up and forget about it. Capitalize on the momentum with your donors. After all, they leave having a great feeling about your organization. This is the time to follow up and keep them engaged. Even if they just supported you, they may be willing to write another check while they have the warm fuzzies about your organization.

4. Not properly saying thank you

Donors don’t only want to hear from you when you need another donation. It’s like when I was in college and I only called my parents when I needed something. They were much more willing to help me if my last few calls were just a check-in and then I called to ask them for help. Your donors are the same way. They can see through your veiled attempts at buttering them up and they don’t appreciate it. Keep in touch with them between asks with updates, invitations to tours and events, coffee dates or even a short email with a link to an article about your organization that just got published in the newspaper. Not only will they know what your organization has been doing they also won’t feel like they only hear from you when you need money.

5. Always asking – and never asking

Nonprofits fall into two categories: ones who ask all the time and ones who don’t ask enough. You don’t want to be either, but it can be very difficult to gauge where your organization’s happy medium is. There is no magic number that fits every organization. Talk to your donors and staff and try to find a number that everyone is comfortable with and test it.

One organization that I worked with sent out a simple “update your information” letter and received multiple donations back. This told them that they weren’t asking enough, at least not to that group, and they added those names in to their annual fund solicitation.

6. Adding people to your lists because they have money

This can be a tough trap to fall into. We have all sat in brainstorming meetings to talk about prospective donors or sponsors and the “usual suspects” are listed. While these may seem like great prospects because they support many different organizations, they may not be for you. Donors must be interested in your organization. If you do not have any relationship with these donors, they are not very likely to support you, especially at a high level. Maybe your first step is to invite them to an event or take them on a tour of the facility. They may show some interest and they may not –  either way, they aren’t a good prospect unless they want to support what you are doing.

7. Not telling your “why”

As fundraisers, we need to be storytellers. Tell your donors WHY they want to support you. This is not to further your mission, keep your doors open or even continue the great work you are doing in the community. Your story is WHY! Your “why” may be Sally, a young girl with cerebral palsy, or Buster, a German shepherd found hiding behind a building. They are why you are asking for a donation and they are why a donor will give to you. I promise, donors don’t want to read your mission statement – they want to see what you are doing with their dollars.

Fundraisers, in general, are overwhelmed. We always need to raise more than we did last year or even last month. It can be very easy to keep plugging forward without stopping to think about what you are doing on a day to day basis. Don’t let your organization make these mistakes that can cost you a lot more than just donors.


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