Beat The (Fundraising) Heat

By: W. Milton Key, Jr., Partner

Many of you reading this piece will know that, historically, July and August are the slowest months of the year for charitable fundraising, in general.  Many board members and other donors and friends are busy with family commitments or vacations.

You may be willing to travel to Aspen, Bar Harbor or Carmel to visit your donors, but it’s not going to happen, right?  What’s a fundraising professional to do?  While the pace is slower in summer, the daily running of the shop, the “other duties as assigned”, and our time in “The Reactive Zone”, as defined by Stagen’s The Attention Zones Model ™, can easily fill up a day or a week.

Here’s a thought: Beat the heat and do some “cool” things to position your fundraising program for a new level of success.  Seriously consider implementing one or more of these strategic or tactical moves this summer:

  • Take your fundraising planning one step further. Beyond the number crunching of how much your shop needs to raise, engage your team in a discussion of methods to reach the goals.  If that’s not your strong suit, consider engaging a volunteer or professional to facilitate. A retreat atmosphere that includes both work and play components can help set a positive tone. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.  Emphasize the content that should be covered and the culture you want to create.  For many years, I was the development director in a small college shop.  We worked hard and we played hard.  Our vice president hosted an annual one-day off-site retreat that combined celebrating success, sharing our plans for the year ahead, working through a couple of challenges (programmatic or process), and a fun theme that involved costumes, karaoke, games, etc.  Those retreats were a huge factor in building trust among our diverse group and grounding us for the year ahead.
  • Invest in your team differently. Have a couple of extended one-on-one meetings to review their mid-year performance or their goals and challenges in the new fiscal year.  Find out what they need from you to help them be successful…listen.  As a former boss of mine used to say, “Soft on people; hard on results.”  If getting together with your team off site or for non-work-related pleasure is rare or never happens, host an afternoon activity that will allow your team to connect in a different way and feel a new or renewed sense of value.  Do all you can to keep your best and brightest and your up-and-comers on board.  A recent report on employee retention affirms what we’ve known for some time.
  • Emphasize stewardship. Host an informal gathering of current donors at a certain gift level and include lapsed donors at that same level…only for your CEO and or your board chair to say “thank you” (no solicitation).  Highlight a few stories that drive home the difference your donors are making.  Perhaps it’s a backyard gathering at a donor’s home or a reception before or after an event already on the calendar.  Your current donors will be affirmed and some will likely be poised for deeper involvement.  Your lapsed donors will be reminded of the good your organization is doing, and they’ll be well-positioned for you to get them back on the list of current donors as the giving season approaches later in the year.
  • Deep cleaning. If aspects of your database are creating issues with the reports you need, prioritize the clean-up of one or two fields or processes.  Employee turnover, gaps in training, changing needs, and previously inconsistent data entry are among the chief causes of incomplete or inaccurate reports.  Devoting focused attention to this critical part of the shop could pay dividends of time and better understanding ranging from routine decision making to preparing board reports.
  • Take stock. In periods of stagnation or transition, summer can be an ideal time to begin an assessment of your entire development or advancement program.  From staff and key volunteer interviews to policies and procedures; from database to online effectiveness/search engine optimization; from donor materials and the case for support gift officer metrics; a professional assessment can serve as the launching pad to increased effectiveness and fundraising results.

Whatever you do, don’t try them all at once…heat stroke guaranteed!  Seriously, take advantage of the brief lull in giving and activity to go somehow beyond the norm in your routine and set the stage for a new level of giving and engagement in the months and years ahead.

Stay in the shade, but keep shining your light on this noble work of fundraising!