Sunday, November 11, 2007

New column every Monday--"The Fundraising Guru": Nov. 11, 2007

Follow Up, Keep Track, and Always Look Back
by Stephen L. Goldstein, consultant and author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising

The best fundraisers relish the past and think long-term. They know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, persistence pays off--and that they can’t get ahead unless they know where they’ve been. Mega-fundraisers chant the mantra “Follow up, keep track, and always look back.”

Follow up: Don’t send potential funders your proposal, thinking you can just sit back and wait for them to respond. Submitting it is only a step in a multi-phase process of communication and cultivation that is likely to last far longer than you might expect--or want. Judicious follow-up is crucial, no matter how solid and worthy you think your project may be. Always follow a polite strategy. Keep in touch with potential funding sources without being over-anxious or obnoxious.

Follow up: Don’t think of rejection as a door’s closing forever on your possibilities for funding. Look upon a “no” as a temporary setback, at worst a detour. There are any number of reasons why you may have been turned down, none of which may have to do with the worthiness of your proposal. For example, major funding sources have timetables, according to which they make grants. Until you get into the cycle of their giving program, even your deserving project won’t be successful. When you hear, “Sorry, but you’re too late for this year,” think, “that makes me way ahead of the game for next year.”

Keep track: It takes years to build a meaningful relationship between an organization and its contributors. Don’t ruin it by neglecting the simple things--like maintaining accurate addresses and knowing who died. Show that you remain interested in people, even after they’ve given you a donation--and not just to solicit them for more money.

Keep track: Maintain an up-to-the-minute, impeccable record of how you have spent every penny of donated money. If you are ever successfully challenged on how you used contributions, you’ll never raise another dime. Keep your promises to donors. Trust once broken can seldom be reestablished.

Look back: Keeping accurate records is not an end in itself, but allows you to analyze your data for meaningful patterns in giving to your organization--percentages of larger versus small gifts and other trends that will enable you to learn from one fundraising cycle to another.

Look back: Ask most people how much they want to raise for a given project, and their first answer is likely to be “as much as possible.” In other words, they have no realistic expectations and are setting themselves and others up for frustration. No matter how much money is raised, it will never seem to be enough. Even if your organization is small, write a formal, narrative analysis of who gave, how much they gave, how they wanted their contribution used, and in what form they made their donation. Use your report to establish benchmarks and goals to increase your future success.

The most effective fundraisers are different from today’s here-today-gone-tomorrow, throw-away world. They follow up, because they care about what they have done. They keep track, because they want to learn from what they are doing. They always look back, because they understand that the only way to go as far forward as they possibly can is to see where they--and others--have been. Happy chanting!
E-mail your comments and questions to Stephen Goldstein at