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Seven Basic Skills for Fundraising — On or Off the Web

Whether you are new or old to the fundraising profession, whether you raise funds on the web or in the old fashioned way (or both), here are some basic skills and knowledge that you need for your job.   Mastering these tasks will increase your chances of raising more money and enjoying your work.

I am amazed by how many people jump into this profession who haven’t taken the time to learn what the industry basics are.  You don?t learn them overnight, and some of the following tips may be easier to implement than others.    You may need to get outside help, including tutoring or attending classes, to master what you need to know.  If you do need help, please get it.  The assistance will make it that much easier to do your job.

Here are the tips:

1.     Learn your organization?s case for support and how best to articulate it.  

Fundraisers who don?t understand the mission – the cause for which they are raising funds – or who cannot articulate it succinctly and with passion need to get help.   It is critical that you understand the programs, benefits and individuals involved that make your organization great.

As fundraisers, you need to know details and stories.   You need both “big picture” and anecdotal information.  You need to know the organization?s history and design for the future.  This information should be committed to memory and available without much prompting.

Case statements can be contained in a variety of forms. Statements can be as small as one paragraph, as creative as a video, or as detailed as a speech, a four-color brochure with forty pages, or a one-color self-published mailer.  Whatever form your case statement takes, it should have passion and color.  It should tug at heart strings and give the reader pause.

2.     Be a good writer (or find one).

Fundraisers need to know how to write a great thank you note that doesn?t sound “canned” and to prepare a letter quickly that makes the case.  You should be able to knock out your writing tasks quickly, and they should have a personal touch.   They should informal, warm and gracious.  Get a good editor; everyone needs one.

You should know the difference between writing a paper for college and writing to explain a program to donors.  You should capture a tone that doesn?t sound too stuffy.  You should personalize notes as much as possible.  You should remember the text of the last thank you note so the next one isn?t exactly the same.

You should know when you need an outside writer, if your own writing isn?t quite good enough.

3.     Know how fundraising databases work.

Even if you are not a computer geek, you should have a really good feel for how fundraising databases work.  You should know what information is stored in the database, how and when gifts or other items get coded, how to select donors based on gifts or events, and when to slim down a database because it has gotten too big.

If you don?t know a lot about your database and how it works, ask lots of people, read manuals or take a class.  It is critical to your job to understand what is inside of it, so you know what you can get out of it.

4.     Listen to donors and respond to their questions quickly.

The most important part of your job is to make sure donors are heard and to respond to their concerns quickly, even if their questions have nothing to do with fundraising.   It is my theory that all their questions have everything to do with fundraising.

If you and your staff have administrative tasks to do and a donor calls and asks a question, address the donor first.   Hold off on your tasks, and deal with your donor.  If it is a major donor, it is even more important.   This would seem to be common sense, but it is not.   I cannot tell you how many times I have reinforced with new development staff or administrative support that a donor?s call and or questions are a priority over less critical tasks.

Donors come first.

5.     Know how to close a gift.

Almost anyone can get information to a donor, anyone can enter a name in a database, and anyone can read a profile of a donor?s giving history.  NOT everyone, however, can close a gift.

Closing a gift is part art, part science.  Yes, it can depend on who is asking, what it is for and how much it is.   Putting a check in the mail is closing a gift, putting a credit card on a website is closing a gift, and getting a major donor to do a leadership gift for a capital campaign is closing a gift.

Whatever kind of fundraiser you are, KNOW HOW TO CLOSE THE GIFT.  There are masters in the business who really understand how to do this.  Listen to them, read their articles, learn from them, hire them and if you can, work alongside of them.  Pick their brains, and take it all in.

6.     Appreciate, and thank your donors.

The most seasoned and gracious fundraisers show appreciation with such ease that they don?t even think about what they are doing.  Normally, I don?t mention names in articles, but I got my (figurative) graduate degree in stewardship while working alongside of Beverly Goldberg at Abington Memorial Hospital in Abington, PA.

By the time I got there, I thought I knew quite a bit about the fundraising business.  Until I had worked alongside of Bev for four and half years, I realized that I didn?t really understand either how stewardship worked or how important it is.

Bev incorporated thanking donors, informing donors, and making them feel good about their gift in every moment of her work.     She did it out of graciousness and with such ease that I don?t know if she was fully conscious of how much and often she did this. Often, I sat next to her and watched her in awe.   I watched how donors called her and communicated with her for years and years.    They would simply check in with her, as they knew how much she cared and how responsive she was.  She knew what was important to them and remembered it when she spoke with them.

Making a donor feel good about his or her gift repeatedly is not an easy task and takes thought, but it is critically important.   The gift is the beginning of the relationship, not the end.  Whether you get the gift on the web or in person, know how to thank the donor and acknowledge him or her over and over again.   It will come back to you many forms.

7.     Stay educated.

The field is constantly evolving, and there is always much to learn.  Experts in this field love to share their knowledge inexpensively and sometimes for free.  Let me give you a few suggestions:

  • Join the CharityChannel forums and subscribe to the CharityChannel eNewsletters, and read them carefully,
  • Subscribe to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, NonProfit Times, and Planned Giving Today.
  • Buy books on the web from Board Source or AFP bookstore.
  • Surf the web and find those many free philanthropy newsletters that supplement your knowledge.
  • Find a mentor whom you like and respect.
  • Work next to some seasoned professionals.
  • Go to as many local or national seminars, programs or conferences as possible, especially those sponsored by  AFP, NCPG, or CASE.
  • Find a local university or college that sponsors nonprofit workshops.
  • Join your local nonprofit state association.

It is true that the web presents a whole new fundraising challenge, but many of the industry principles are true whether you are working on the web or not.   Your learning is never over, and your donors never get tired of being thanked and acknowledged.

 

About the Contributor: Eileen Heisman

Eileen R. Heisman, ACFRE, is the President and CEO of NPT. She is a nationally recognized expert on charitable and planned giving. Ms. Heisman has been interviewed about philanthropy and donor-advised funds on CNBC, PBS and CNN International, and by nearly every national newspaper and major trade publication, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, CBS MarketWatch, Financial Advisor, and Investment News. She was among the first fundraising professionals to earn the distinguished ACFRE certification. In 2011, she was named by NonProfit Times as one of their Power and Influence Top 50, an annual listing of the 50 most influential executives in the philanthropic sector. In 2013, she was invited by the Chinese government to speak to their emerging nonprofit sector about philanthropy. Ms. Heisman is currently a member of the faculty at Leadership Philadelphia, as well as an adjunct faculty member the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work graduate program, and at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. She is a regular lecturer for the Nonprofit Board Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a member of the Governance Committee for the Nonprofit Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Ms. Heisman serves on the Advisory Board at New York University’s George H. Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising, the Community Foundation of Singapore and the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. She is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Arden Theater Company. Ms. Heisman has a bachelor’s degree with honors in psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s degree in social work with a major in social program evaluation from the University of Michigan. She is a member of the third Wharton Fellows Class at the University of Pennsylvania and completed the Executive Program for Philanthropy Leaders at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

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