Continuous Improvement in Fundraising
Have you ever used Lysol as an astringent? Poured a cap full into your bathwater? Diluted a little of the dark, amber liquid to clean a scrape?
My last memory of using Lysol on myself was as recent as the late 90’s. I was soaking a small cut on my finger – which burned like fire – when, at some point, I asked myself, why am I not using Neosporin?
Clearly, these are misguided practices. The label on Lysol Concentrate lists 14 surfaces where the product effectively kills bacteria. Nowhere is there even a hint that Lysol can be safely applied as a disinfectant on the human body!
My family’s well-intended but incorrect use of Lysol for more than three generations reminds me of non-profits which continue practices that are ineffective and misapplied: In both cases, we follow tradition because that’s the way it’s always been done, and it makes us feel good!
Here are three simple questions to test whether a long-held practice from your organization stays or goes:
1. Is it working?
Today, it’s common to host events intended to inform, educate, and connect non-profits to new donors. However, when asked, “Is it working?” answers are vague. You often learn there is no follow-up plan. Few donors have ever been secured. But, the Board seems to love the idea. It makes everyone feel good. In fundraising, the question, “Is it working?” is relatively easy to quantify.
Recently, I heard my aunt very seriously say of the Lysol soak, “My doctor said it doesn’t work. There’s no benefit to it.” So, she’s quit the practice. Do you need an external perspective on your fundraising practices?
2. Is the Strategy Misapplied?
Lysol works on hard surfaces; we simply misapplied a good product. Are you misapplying strategies?
For example, look at your operating budget. Is your organization hosting a small event or managing a raffle or making unplanned personal asks to cover expenses not included in the budget?
If so, you’re using what I call band-aid fundraising – cover up’s for budget cuts. Jettison this practice! Instead, honestly assess your needs. Create a thorough budget with your board’s finance committee. Show the shortfall.
Next, increase your fundraising goal to cover the shortfall. At this point, you may decide that a raffle or small event or targeted ask is exactly what you need to close the gap. Now, you’re applying a strategy correctly and intentionally.
3. Is the Strategy Solely Based on Tradition?
A few years ago, I inherited a struggling telethon, begun almost two decades before I arrived. That first year, I experienced months of staff preparation, the devotion of our community partner, the excitement of our hospital staff…and the long silent minutes between calls on the night of the telethon. The numbers proved our love for tradition was clouding our real goal – to fund our mission.
Over the next year, we reviewed gross revenue, compared ourselves to other markets, and discussed alternatives with national and local partners. Tradition gave way to reason, and together, we launched a hybrid event, a radiothon with live television. Donations grew 12x in the first year!
I’ve just left a family reunion. There’s still a pretty strong cultural affection for Lysol Concentrate, but I doubt anyone’s using it as before. The path to change requires time, continuous improvement, new ideas, and difficult decisions. In the end, you might need to throw out the Lysol Concentrate…and keep the memories.
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