Five Fatal Fundraising Mistakes

Posted on July 2, 2012
This week’s guest blogger is Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting and the instructor for “Building the Annual Fund” at the Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center. She is a 25+ year fundraising veteran and can be reached at

We’ve all heard the definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. Why, then, do many nonprofit organizations keep repeating the same fatal fundraising mistakes? Here are my top five.
1. Not asking.
I read about a local organization that had not reached its fundraising goals and were seeking an extension. Turns out, they stopped asking for fear of leaving money on the table. The Board Chairman was quoted as saying “we didn’t want to ask for $100,000 and only get $20,000 so we decided not to ask.” Huh? If you’re not asking, someone else is. Donors want to invest in “bold dreams and soaring aspirations”, not hand-wringing and support for maintaining the status quo. Think bigger. Ask for what you really need and invite people to make that dream a reality. Your mission is not in recession.

2. Not telling your best story.

Charities must stop wringing their hands with donors about funding they’ve lost or the grant that got away. Even though it’s true, that’s the wrong message. Donors need to hear about results and who is being served. What great work is your organization doing that will only continue if donors keep giving? Talk about your accomplishments and why your organization matters. That’s what motivates people to give. Donors respond to urgent human needs, not organizational needs. Start telling your best story and people will respond.

3. Not having volunteers involved in meaningful ways.
Let’s start by making board meetings matter. Stop reporting on what you did last month. Ask at least one open-ended question at every Board meeting. Engage your board members in discussion with each other about the long-term goals of the organization. Ask board members to share how and why they got involved. Help them tap into their passion for your organization because passionate volunteers raise money.

4. Not having the CEO involved in fundraising.

No matter how many fundraisers are on staff, the CEO must play a significant role in the fundraising effort. Why? Some donors expect to be asked by the highest ranking official. Plus, a strong CEO is often matched by a strong Board. This increases donor confidence in the results their gift will make possible. In short, the bigger the gift, the more the donor must know and trust the organization’s leadership.

5. Not recognizing a simple truth: there are no shortcuts in fundraising.
It’s vital to do the basics and do them well. Return phone calls promptly. Send hand-written notes. Visit with donors to say thank you without asking for more. Get to know your donors on an individual basis. Know their spouses first name and learn to listen well. Donors need to be inspired to be good, regular donors. That means YOU are in the inspiration business.

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