I've never been very keen on the word "fundraising": I associate it more with knocking on people's door to ask for money, than the multifaceted approach needed by today's non-profits. Fundraising -- actually, let's call it "development" instead; it's a term used interchangeably but it's a more apt description -- is no longer about the simple transaction of a small monetary donation. It's about building long term relations and trust.
For an organisation, this can be about increasing the amount of funding overall, moving from restricted funding to unrestricted funding or increasing donor diversity. We all know what it takes to make a non-profit run over time: unrestricted funding to do what helps you reach your goals, resources to do the work, and a diversified donor base in several different dimensions. Getting there isn't always easy.
Over the past month, I've had the opportunity to work with someone knowledgeable about development on a professional level who volunteered his time pro-bono to the FSFE and I would like to share a bit of what we discovered in the process. Most of this isn't surprising. Indeed, if anything, the surprising thing about what I learned is what I already knew, but didn't act on. Sometimes, you need someone external to the organisation, to look at what you're doing and tell you what you already know.
In our first exchange, I was asked to "give me all your stuff of fundraising and figures, show me the results you have." and I immediately stopped cold as the implications of this question started to sink in.
Learning #1: We don't know the effect of the actions we do. Only in some cases are we accurately able to see how different actions influence our development. This is problematic and something we need to become better at: if we don't know what we do that creates a positive development, we don't know which to do more of.
As we continued our exchange, and I provided more and more information about our activities, what actions we carry out and what (little) data we have about them, something else became apparent: since we founded the organisation 15 years ago, we've developed a number of different ways in which to keep in touch with our community: our newsletter, website, blogs, press releases, social media, and so on and so forth.
But we never stopped to consider what we communicate where, or how. Most of our communication is ad-hoc: we communicate when/if someone thinks it makes sense, and we do it to the lists or people we happened to think of at the time.
Learning #2: We need a bit more structure in how we communicate to our community. Our current ad-hoc way risks leaving people out, makes some of our communication invisible and isn't effective. Bringing more clarity to this increases transparency and makes it more relevant.
Talking about communication as well, what became clear after I did a small exercise to map out our communication structure, is that a lot of our information is sent through our newsletter. But we then encountered another issue.
Learning #3: We have much too few recipients of our newsletter, and it's actually been rather hard to subscribe to it or to find it. We've improved slightly, but there's a lot more we can do to make it easier for people to stay engaged in our work.
I won't go into much more detail than this, but as you can see, most of what I learned in this wasn't too hard to figure out. We knew it already, more or less, but having someone call it out for you puts it into perspective and helps shape the action you take to change. Which will be the next step: going from knowing what to do to actually doing it.