Most non-profit fundraisers are both passive and reactive in their fundraising. This means that they wait for things to happen and spend most of their time following up on opportunities rather than creating new ones.
That’s why so many fundraisers mention the need for new donors at a board meeting, then wait for referrals that never come. They prefer to e-mail donors and wait for a response, rather than picking up the phone and making things happen. They would rather host an event and send out soft asks in the form of event invitations than sit down with donors face-to-face to make personal asks.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the non-profit fundraising world is plagued by passive, reactive fundraising. Which is one reason why fundraisers get so frustrated with their results and why non-profits are chronically underfunded.
If you want to be successful – really successful – with your fundraising, you need to be a proactive fundraiser.
Why Most Fundraisers are Reactive
In my experience the main reason why so many fundraisers are reactive – rather than proactive – is because they are overwhelmed. At the average non-profit, there is so much to do and so little time. Fundraisers are asked to be strategists, writers, networkers and social media influencers. They are left with precious little time to do anything other than to send out mass communications and react to donors, prospects, and board members.
Most fundraisers are trying to do too many things, including low-ROI fundraising strategies that create lots of work but very little revenue. Because they don’t have time to go out and build relationships, they “spray and pray,” sending out invitations and e-mails and letters and posting on social media, hoping some people will respond.
There’s a place for using mass communications in your fundraising, but even there many fundraisers focus on reactive fundraising rather than proactive fundraising. Instead of actively seeking out lapsed donors, wealth screening small donors to figure out who has major donor potential, and inviting online donors to connect offline, many fundraisers just sent out another letter or e-mail and hope for the best.
What Does Proactive Fundraising Look Like?
The definition of proactive is “to create or control a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.” Proactive fundraising means going out and shaking the trees to build relationships and make asks. Proactive fundraising means focusing on networking, doing meetings, and picking up the phone to call donors. It means making things happen by finding creative ways to use your current resources to build your fundraising capacity, rather than sitting back and letting fundraising take its course.
As the definition implies, proactive fundraising means causing fundraising to happen rather waiting for fundraising to happen. Proactive fundraisers see themselves as fundraising entrepreneurs… people who make fundraising happen. They develop a strategy and take responsibility for implementing it, actively pushing to reach their goals and build out a strong fundraising program.
Every Fundraiser Can be a Proactive Fundraiser
It’s easy to see how major gift officers and development directors can be proactive fundraisers. These fundraisers can attend networking events, visit donors at their offices, do cultivation lunches, and spend hours on the phone connecting with donors and prospects. But the truth is that every fundraiser can be a proactive fundraiser, no matter their role in the development office.
If you’re a grantwriter, are you picking up the phone to call grant officers? Are you talking with other organizations to figure out where you can partner for larger grant opportunities? Are you making fundraising happen by asking board members and other donors to help you connect with new foundations?
If you’re running the fundraising database, are you wealth screening your donors to look for upgrade opportunities? Are you keeping an eye on current donors so that you can run a reactivation campaign to bring lapsed donors back into the fold? Are you rewriting you thank you letter template every quarter to keep things interesting for your most active donors?
Every fundraiser can be a proactive fundraiser, if they take responsibility for making fundraising happen. What steps can you take this year to become a more proactive fundraiser for your non-profit?