Five Reasons Why Your Fundraiser is Losing Money

How nonprofit organizations minimize fundraising opportunities and make missteps along the way

When a nonprofit’s signature fundraiser stays in the black – but giving levels remain flat – there’s a problem. By the time premiere campaigns and seminal giving series go in the red, a crisis may be brewing. Here are some practical reasons nonprofit campaigns, charitable events and long-time fundraisers may begin withering on the vine.

1. Donor Fatigue. Unfortunately, the only time some donors hear from the nonprofit organizations they’ve supported is when the cause needs more – you guessed it – money. Between charitable solicitations made via email, snail mail, phone calls and now even text messages, donors may be feeling the brunt of too much self-serving nonprofit outreach. The Society for Nonprofits defines donor fatigue syndrome as “an ongoing situation in which individuals are solicited by a plethora of organizations again and again.”

The average Baby Boomer supports 4.5 nonprofit organizations, while members of Generation Y do so for 3.3, according to Blackbaud. In 2013, the average number of nonprofit emails sent per subscriber was a whopping 53. And, based on anecdotal feedback, many of those emails were pleas for money. Says one donor in Nonprofit World: “I tend to make one donation per organization in mid-year. However, they send numerous requests before and after . . . I just can’t give to everyone! It has made me more ‘hard-hearted.’”

2. Not Asking for Money. The flip side of donor fatigue brought on by ceaseless requests for contributions is organizations not asking for money. Developing “the ask” is an intimidating exercise for some. Values like passion and care are the crux of many social-change causes, and organizations ideally want donors to be inspired by a feel-good sense of purpose and genuine concern – without needing a business-centered sell.

Donors can be moved by stories of hope and promise. Their emotions may also be stirred by facts and figures that broaden awareness about important issues. However, these approaches alone are not always sufficient in opening wallets and pocketbooks. The most viable solicitation pitches are measured – that is, not conveying a sense of desperation or dire straits; appreciative – not assuming that just because someone gave last year, he will automatically continue giving in the future; and clear, providing measurable outcomes associated with spends at various levels.

3. Low Attendee Costs. Perhaps ticket prices for signature galas, special dinners, annual award ceremonies or institutional auctions have remained flat for years. The cost to put on events, from behind-the-scenes expenses like fuel, shipping and raw goods to renting event facilities, paying for the food on the table and remunerating the wait staff for the evening , has certainly felt inflationary pressure.

Donors are also consumers and they, too, have experienced upticks in personal spending for energy, housing, gas and groceries. Correspondingly, supporters may not take undue offense to or be surprised by moderate increases in nonprofit event price tags. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, “[nonprofit] party planning means walking a fine line between spending enough to justify the ticket price . . . but not appearing extravagant.”

4. Time for Event Refresh. Just like effective nonprofit organizations review and reboot their strategic plan every three to five years, they should take a similar tack to fundraising events. Trends change in events just as they do in fashion, and it takes an objective and willing event planning team to critically evaluate what’s working and what has outlived its purpose. GuideStar presents the increased importance of on-trend event branding, among other features, in hosting memorable nonprofit experiences.

5. Cliquish – and Not Inviting Others to Join the Club. Nobody likes to feel left out, either intentionally or inadvertently. But some nonprofit organizations may be unwittingly guilty of navel gazing when it comes to spreading their wings and reaching fresh audiences. Long-running charities esteemed as venerable institutions in their own right, in particular, may be at increased risk of standing too strongly on tradition and withholding outreach. But relying too heavily on a finite group of the well-connected could be to nonprofits’ fundraising detriment.

Consider this: Nearly 80 million millennials are coming of age or are already in full-throttle adulthood. Though “Millennials lag behind their same-aged counterparts of yesteryear on virtually all key indicators of economic well-being,” according to the Pew Research Center, they are an inspired, impassioned cohort ripe for linkages. The way they view nonprofit involvement is driven by the emotional payoff of feeling included and as if they are making a difference. According to the Case Foundation’s “The Millennial Impact Project,”  this group not only want to help people more than institutions; they are also heavily influenced by their peers. If their friends, co-workers and neighbors aren’t clued in to a particular organization or the cause at large, those nonprofits are gambling with their relevancy – and the compounding charitable giving of an entire generation on the rise.

How should nonprofit organizations avoid these pitfalls and preserve their relevancy in an ever-changing giving landscape? Why is it so easy not to see “the forest for the trees” when it comes to opportunities for organizations to reboot and revitalize approaches? Tell us what you think on the Wakeman Agency Facebook page, where the conversation continues.

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