No doubt in this new, COVID environment, your organization has scrambled to create a fundraising plan that addresses budget shortfalls and compensates for activities that are now impossible, such as large live events.  (If you don’t have a plan, but desperately want one, check out this article that guides you through the steps to creating it.) You made an effort to create the plan and now the real work begins.  What I tell my nonprofit clients is this: the perfect plan is only as effective as the energy and commitment that the organizations dedicates to it. I’ve seen well-intended organizations fall into some common pitfalls at this stage. So, I’ve decided to outline the biggest pitfalls I see organizations make so you can take action and stay on course.

Avoid these Four Common Pitfalls When Implementing Your Fundraising Plan

Pitfall #1:  Letting the plan die on the shelf.

After putting so much effort into creating it, sometimes, organizations run out of steam.  Or, they get distracted by business as usual.  The next thing you know, your shiny new plan has sat on the shelf for six months. Instead of letting your plan gather dust, take action the same day you do the final proofread.  Identify one or two items you can do immediately. Maybe your plan prioritizes more individual donor visits. If that’s the case, call or email five donors right now. Or, if a priority task is beefing up your social media strategy and content calendar, schedule a brainstorming meeting within the next week. Momentum builds over time. By tackling a few elements of your plan immediately, you’ll begin to build that momentum. And remember the fundraising truism: money follows activity. The more actions you take, the more money you’ll raise.

Pitfall #2:  Not involving the whole organization in the implementation of the plan. 

Fundraising permeates and impacts all areas of an organization. Too often, though, I see the responsibility for fundraising tactics live solely on the shoulders of the mighty but few members of the development department. When that’s the case, a nonprofit misses a real opportunity to elevate its efforts, connect with more donors in deeper and more authentic ways, and raise more money.

Did you know that quite often, a professional fundraiser is the last person in the organization a donor wants to talk to? Don’t get me wrong, your development director is the wind beneath your wings. At the same time, the donor knows that it’s the development director’s job to cultivate and solicit gifts. Alternatively, donors get really excited when they hear from program staff. Donors give because they’re interested in your programs. Who better to geek out with a donor about a program than the program director? Donors also love to hear from board members and committee members. These individuals are the volunteer leaders of the organization and donors deeply respect the commitment of resources and strategic guidance board members provide. Getting news straight from a decision-maker about the future of their favorite organization instills confidence.

I realize this is all easier said than done. It can be difficult to convince busy program staff or board members to take responsibility for aspects of the fundraising plan. A trick I’ve seen to be successful is to sit down 1:1 with staff and board members, clearly communicate the plan, and personally ask for their help. Then, let them identify the ways in which they feel they could be most helpful (and feel the most comfortable). At first, it may seem that a 1:1 conversation puts your colleague on the spot. However, look at it as an opportunity to start a conversation that allows the person to ask questions, share concerns, or confess their nervousness – all things they may be reluctant to do among a larger group.

Pitfall #3:  Infrequently evaluating your progress and not course correcting.

If you did it right, your fundraising plan includes new activities and fresh ideas. These elements are untested.  They’re risks and there’s always a possibility they may not work out as planned. It’s okay if a tactic ends up not producing the intended result. It’s not okay to continue executing on tactics that aren’t delivering results. Sometimes organizations plow through the elements of a plan without stopping to evaluate whether or not the plan is working. Evaluating your progress and adjusting as necessary is critical to your success.  I recommend a quarterly review of the plan. Look at the results with a gimlet eye and be bold when making adjustments if certain elements aren’t performing. A quarterly review of the plan will provide insight into which activities you may need to scrap and replace with other tactics that are producing results.

Pitfall #4:  Only seeking feedback and doing a deep dive on your data once in a blue moon. 

Your data is your compass. Since the purpose of every fundraising activity is to inspire donors and motivate them to give, it’s important to routinely check in with them to see if your efforts are being well-received. All too often organizations wear a deep groove by going over the same fundraising ground over and over again. As a result, donor communications become stale. Your fundraising metrics, such as your retention rate, slide in the wrong direction. Or, rather than increasing, donor giving levels off or, even worse, decline. Regularly asking your donors for feedback will help keep your tactics fresh. Talking to your donors to get feedback also builds trust and creates more dynamic relationships. Connecting with donors is never time wasted. Routinely analyzing your most important fundraising metrics, gift categories, and giving segments will help you quickly identify any trouble spots so you can shift your efforts and do more of what works.

It’s Time to Take Action

Now that you’ve created a powerful fundraising tool, make sure you use it optimally.  By avoiding the most common fundraising pitfalls, you’ll take your fundraising efforts to the next level, reinforce the most successful tactics, and develop a feedback loop that generates momentum and helps you meet your fundraising goals. I hope this deep dive into developing a data assessment has been a valuable exercise over these past five months. By doing the hard work to refine your fundraising strategy and rally your organization this fundraising season, you’ll be well-positioned to bring in more donor dollars and best support those you serve.

Best of luck!