Stop looking at your neighbor’s lawn. Just too many nonprofits think the grass is greener with someone else's mission, donors, or…fill in the blank. Not true, most of the time.

Let me share a brief story about this kind of unwarranted envy. When I was advising a small and successfully fundraising food bank in Topeka, Kansas, years ago about their fundraising, they lamented the prestige and stature of a nonprofit theatre up the street. It sat in a historic building and was alive every night with patrons of all ages. To the food bank, the theatre's mission and apparent success (fundraising in particular) was something they could only aspire to achieve but far away.  In the words of the food bank’s executive director, “food banks don't inspire, we simply feed people’s immediate need and not create that magic that they do well.”

The next day I went my other client in Topeka who was just up the street successfully raising funds and engaging donors. You guessed it, that same nonprofit theatre.  While pouring over donor reports, the vice president of development and I talked about her aspirations.  Discussing how she can reach out to the community more, I nearly face-palmed when I heard her comment, "sure we're a theatre, but we can't inspire more donors because we're not helping people directly, every day like . . . the food bank down the street."

Maybe different missions, therefore…many different approaches

Absolutely true story and absolutely one that's never failed to reorient me to a universal truth of fundraising. First, you have to understand that donors have different interests and your cause may serve someone's desire to make a change that's important to them that you may not always appreciate on the more trying days of your work. I’ve been there and understand. Still, you’ve got to know that your mission and work is compelling. Second, understand your message, how you treat donors, patrons and volunteers are different. Their aspirations and inspirations are different than others.  By that also means you need a culture of philanthropy in your organization.

So who are the inspired and where can we find them?

Now, this brings us to another challenge Make Philanthropy Work sees too many times: where are these people who are so inspired they’ll give? Don't worry, there's a solution you can implement this afternoon and a much more strategic solution too.  So, where are these donors who believe in our mission?  Should we hold a Gala, buy a list (NO!), or ask our board to "ask" (without training or true engagement, in most cases).  Well, not exactly.

Look at where you who’s part of your organization today and most recently. Meaning, who's in your records now (or previously and forgotten), who's been volunteering, and who's been visiting your website. Have you looked at your digital experience?  Though you might need help if you don't . have the time or expertise (yes, Make Philanthropy Work can help you there).  Nothing counterintuitive here, but does require some time. Like I promised earlier, the solution you can see this afternoon.  Certainly, if you have a development, advancement, or fundraising office they do this constantly.

Data and analysis will inform

What may not be happening though is a more objective, data approach.  This approach is called a wealth screen or capacity assessment, and it will be an investment, generally 15 – 25 cents on any future dollar raised.  Boiled down, these reports examine hundreds of donors and create rankings that point you to the top ones, based not just on the ability to make a large gift but likelihood.  Ability is often referred to internally in fundraising as "capacity." Their behavior is determined by their giving history, event participation, and other acts that indicates their willingness to make a make that gift.  These acts and indicators are often referred to as "affinity" in the fundraising world.

We know now, but what do we do?

Now for the really heavy lifting, how do you use this data and analysis?  As I'm fond of saying, “data is like a gym membership: must be used to be of value.”  Fortunately, there are so many ways to utilize it.

  1. Assuming leadership, board members, and staff are aligned, can this data be used immediately to:

Inform or confirm those big, strategic decisions

Educate everyone in the organization about who's really your donor or volunteer base of support and who's not

Populate systems, reports, and any other communication tools you have where the data could make work smarter, faster, and more effective

Motivate everyone to realize your mission has supporters, you only need to reach out to them

Informed Action to call them, email them and engage them ASAP in a dialogue (figuratively, literally)

  1. Step back with the data and really think about what it means to your organization in terms of your:

Volunteer or donor base: what's it telling you that your base of volunteers or annual giving donors is too small or so big it's consuming too much time and resources?

Message: is it telling you your messaging is off and donors are giving to areas of less need?

Trends: if you've looked at the last five years, where are the trends going?  Are people giving more through crowdfunding or email? Are your website traffic and open rates climbing but gifts dropping (HINT — are you forgetting to ask with a button or link) and donor base not growing?

Resources: is data telling pointing at serious gaps or, maybe, it’s telling you the resources you have are in better shape than you thought, so spend time somewhere else.

Structure and organization: while this can be politically sensitive and a tricky topic, it’s vital, and the data may inform you that your organization’s not aligned properly. Times change and organizations should change.  You'll need some strategic planning starting with the board. We can help you there.

Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT): without data, such exercise are just hollow. With data, it becomes an informed discussion.

As fundraising counsel, Make Philanthropy Work can guide you through an assessmentwalk you through each step, and guide everyone to a clear outcome.  From that outcome, you’ll have a much better sense of who you need to build relationships with, how to do it with the resources at hand, how long it will take and to what end.

I hope you’ve taken this message to heart, realizing there’s so much you can do and realize your mission, the mission of the organization down the street, and the countless missions of the 11,000 nonprofits in Colorado all have a compelling story to someone out there.  It’s our job to tell it, tell it again, and keep telling it.