We talk to a lot of fundraising professionals and we thought it would be interesting to ask them what makes a successful fundraiser. Is it just a question of practice and experience or are there other factors too, things that can’t be taught? The answer seems to be a bit of both, there’s no doubt that experience and an address book filled with contacts are great to have but, according to the people who know best, these are the qualities every fundraiser needs;
Be a Good Listener
This consistently topped the list, although it can look as if philanthropy is a one way street, in practice all of us expect something in return when we make a donation, even if we don’t realise it. A good fundraiser understands what that something is. In the case of a corporate sponsor or a wealthy individual it’s important to meet with them face to face over a period of weeks or even months to understand exactly what motivates them and what they are hoping to get out of the relationship. Perhaps it’s recognition in the form of a plaque with their name on it, the ability to reach your database or volunteering opportunities for their staff.
Whatever the size of the donation, nothing beats taking the time to really understand what prospective donors are looking for and that includes watching their body language. Sometimes people are too embarrassed to tell you outright that they don’t want to donate, but their behaviour gives them away. If they don’t ask questions or sound enthused the chances are you won’t be receiving a donation any time soon. Finding out what charities they do support and why will also give an insight into why your pitch might not be working.
This is closely linked to being a good listener. Clearly there’s no point listening unless you’re prepared to make some changes based on what you hear. When I first became involved in fundraising, I was impressed by the beautiful colour brochures that the fundraising department produced for prospective donors, but after a few meetings it quickly became apparent that these were more of a hindrance than a help. Donors didn’t want to be given a fait accompli – however pretty it might look – they want the opportunity to input and to feel that their views were being taken on board. As a result we stopped producing glossy brochures and were much more flexible in our approach, even if that meant we sometimes had to adapt our plans to keep a major donor happy.
This applies to crowdfunding too, although you obviously can’t talk to every prospective donor in person, it’s a good idea to ask a few of your existing supporters what they think of your campaign before you launch and tweak it accordingly. You could even test two or three possible projects and see which has the greatest appeal.
Be Open and Accountable
Sadly things don’t always go as planned and even the best managed project can run into problems. As fundraisers we often worry about telling donors if something has gone wrong in case they lose confidence in the charity or feel that their support has been wasted. However, in reality, most supporters are remarkably understanding and appreciate being kept in the loop even if that means sharing problems as well as successes. In fact, if the communication is handled sensitively, being open about issues can work in your favour, helping to build trust in the organisation and in you.
Most importantly donors want to know that they’ve made a difference and this is true whether they donate £10 or £10,000. On most crowdfunding platforms communication with donors stops when the campaign ends, but at WildCrowd we take a different approach. We ask charities to keep people updated on the progress of the project after the campaign has finished and to post a final report when it’s complete saying what was achieved. We believe this is vital because it strengthens the relationship between the charity and the donor and lays the foundation for future support.
Champion your Supporters
If you work for a small or medium sized charity it’s easy to get sucked into the day to day running and lose sight of who pays the bills. While of course you can’t let supporters dictate what the charity does or doesn’t do, a good fundraiser makes sure their voice is heard by everyone, from the staff at the front line all the way up to the board, and holds the organisation accountable for delivering on the promises it makes.
Like it or not every charity has two sets of customers, its beneficiaries and the donors without whom it couldn’t survive. The skill of a good fundraiser is juggling the priorities of these different audiences to make sure that everyone ends up happy!
Passion is the secret weapon in the fundraisers’ armoury. It’s true that you can be a competent fundraiser without passion, but the very best fundraisers care deeply about their cause and this comes across to donors.
In a previous role I found myself trying to persuade people to fund the digitisation of books and manuscripts. There’s no doubt this is important work and gives academics across the world access to material they might not otherwise see, but it didn’t inspire me personally and prospective donors could tell and responded accordingly. The solution was to involve the people who were passionate in the pitch; the curators responsible for the collections.
Working with environmental, conservation and animal welfare charities I’ve yet to come across a fundraiser who isn’t passionate about their work, but sometimes that can get lost online. Generic templates are the passion killers of online fundraising, the trick is to write every email, newsletter and update as if you are having a one to one conversation with the person receiving it. Let your personality and enthusiasm shine through and you’ll soon find your passion is infectious.
If you want to find out more about crowdfunding and how it can help your charity please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, if you’ve got a great project and you’re ready to go;