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The Meat, the Fluff, and the Gaps

A barbecue

Creating Your Fundraising Plan – The End

In the last three weeks, you have  had the opportunity to create an annual plan for your current fundraising activities, a logic model for your program activities, and a case for support for your fundraising. You have done a lot of work. But, what’s the point?

With these three tools in hand, you’re ready to build a new fundraising plan that will enable you to fulfill your mission.

Let’s Get Cooking!

The basic activities of fundraising are finding new donors, cultivating  and stewarding current donors, and reactivating lapsed donors. Look at your annual fundraising plan and see what kind of activities you have for each of these different categories.

Your fundraising plan, as it currently stands, is made up of meat, fluff, and gaps.

  • The “meat” are those fundraising activities that bring in the bulk of your revenue. They will jump out at you. They will likely be more cost effective than your other fundraising activities (raise more money per dollar spent) and might bring in 10-20 times more than other revenue streams.
  • The “fluff” might be where you spend a lot of your time. Maybe even most of your time. But it doesn’t bring in much revenue and the costs in terms of time and financial resources are high. Many events fall into the fluff category. An event that takes 10 people 3 months to plan and raises less than $10,000 is the very definition of fluff.
  • The “gaps” are those places where you should currently have fundraising activities, but don’t. The gaps might be the most difficult to identify, because often times it’s hard to know what new activities you need to fill those gaps effectively.

Your next job is to finely season the meat, cut as much fluff as possible, and fill any gaps that might be present. Let’s start with the most important part.

Make the Meat Sizzle!

The first thing you need to do is look at the meat of your fundraising plan. Take your top two or three fundraising activities and begin to compare them to your case statement.

In most churches that I’ve attended, the offertory is the number one fundraising activity. It’s also often the least inspiring. How many sermons have you heard about the cost of air conditioning or the need to put a new roof on the parish hall? It’s amazing that people continue to give.

If people give when the “ask” is so boring and uninspiring, imagine what kind of success you’ll have when your message is truly exciting. Take out your case statement and begin to think about ways that you can integrate your new fundraising case into the way that you talk about offertory with your parish. Homilies, printed materials, posters, testimonials are different ways to help people understand the big vision that you’ve developed in your case statement. Your case statement should be EXCITING! Now you need to find creative ways to share that excitement with your donors.

Repeat this process of comparing your current fundraising activities to your case statement for each of your top fundraising activities. This should take the majority of your planning time, because these are your best, most established fundraising programs. Invest the most time and energy where it will have the biggest impact.

It sounds so obvious, but in actuality it can be really hard to do. Too often, we succumb to the tyranny of the urgent but unimportant thing.

Cut the Fluff!

Once you have the meat cooking, it’s time to cut the fluff. Fluff is probably the stuff that drives you crazy. Lots of people, lots of time, little return. Many (but not all) events fall into the fluff category. Bake sales, taco sales, pancake suppers, spaghetti dinners… most of these are fluff. You’re never going to make enough money selling $10 breakfast tickets to actually make a difference on your parish’s bottom line.

By the way, cutting the fluff doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to cancel the pancake supper if people actually enjoy it. Just slide it over into a category called “hospitality” or “parish life” and remove it from the budget. Let it be a community building event and stop selling tickets. You can leave out a donation basket to try to cover costs, but focus on building community instead of raising money. More people will show up, and fewer people will get irritated with the proliferation of tiny, ineffective fundraisers.

If you are going to keep any event fundraisers, try to transform them from fluff into meat. This means focusing on bigger gifts than just the ticket price and finding a way to convey the case statement in an interesting and compelling way. Create a video or slide show.

Pay special attention to “fluff” in the form of an event that was created by a person who has moved away or gone to glory. Never underestimate the power of institutional inertia. Events often live on long past their expiration date because no one is willing to kill an event that has become a tradition. Even if it’s not working.

Don’t be afraid to cut the fluff. No doubt, you will step on some toes, but at the end of the day everyone will be happier if you focus your energies on high return activities. Take that pent up volunteer energy and direct it away from fluff and towards more meaty activities.

Fill the Gaps

Probably the hardest thing to do with your fundraising plan is to fill the gap. It’s easy to see when your arm is broken, but it’s hard to imagine what should be there if it’s just missing.

Look at your fundraising plan. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have any new donor acquisition activities? Are they working?
  • How are you connecting with new parishioners?
  • Do you have online giving options?
  • Are you able to take credit card gifts on site (because who carries cash these days?)?
  • Are you encouraging monthly recurring giving?
  • Do you know who in your parish has an ability to give large gifts? Are you asking for large gifts in a one on one setting?
  • How are you thanking your donors? How are you doing it and how often?
  • How are you communicating the impact of gifts to your donors?

As you’re answering these questions, hop over to The Fundraiser’s Playbook  and start scrolling through the different types of fundraising programs that are available. You have lots of different options.

Look for fundraising activities that will fill in the gaps identified by the questions above and your fundraising plan. Do you need a new way to bring in new donors? Pick one or two new strategies to try out that will meet that need.

I don’t recommend trying to add more than two or three new strategies per year. Filling the gaps is still less important than seasoning the meat. You likely don’t have the time or staff support necessary to launch 5 or 6 initiatives in a single season. So focus on one or two that look like they should make a difference.

For instance, if you aren’t currently doing any kind of online giving, get that donate button placed on your website. Come up with several different strategies to communicate the new online donation option to your donors. And then stick to it.

There’s practically nothing worse than adding a whole bunch of new fundraising activities to a fundraising plan, getting completely overwhelmed, and then failing at all of them.

Start small with new strategies and as they begin to bear fruit you can find new ways to supplement them. You can also cut them if they turn out to be a waste of time.

Try two or three new things per year. Keep what works. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it.

Enjoy the Meal!

With all of that work done, you should have a new plan that is firmly grounded in the fruit of all the good work that you do. You should have enough concrete, actionable activities to lead you to fundraising success, but not drive you crazy.

I pray that God give you wisdom and inspire your planning so that you can create a fundraising game plan that really works.


Need some new ideas on how to fundraise? Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook and find the fundraising strategy that will work best for you!

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com, via Creative Commons License, no rights reserved.