Hey, fundraisers... have the confidence to not reinvent the wheel!
Part motivational message, part (constructive, I hope!) rant.
This month was supposed to be all about grant research and writing, but I had a conversation with a client a few weeks back that I think is universally relevant and worth sharing.
As nonprofit professionals, and fundraisers especially, we need to quit feeling like we must always reinvent the wheel.
A bit of background: this conversation was with a client who is working on a peer-to-peer campaign that was quite successful last year. Maybe surprisingly successful, as it was the first time they did it and they had no real idea how their audience would respond. They are launching the same campaign again this year and are worried about being able to replicate their results. Because of this, they wanted to think about making the campaign new, fresh, and exciting.
While I don’t disagree with any of their assessments - peer-to-peer campaigns can be difficult to keep people engaged within a single campaign, let alone year over year, and a fresh feel or focus can help to re-energize people. But you know what is also important? Your ability to meet your job’s expectations over the long term without burning out!
Because of the fear of failing to repeat their success, they were thinking about turning their peer-to-peer campaign into a walk. This would mean (in the span of just a couple months) they would need to identify a location, figure out city permitting for group events, develop messaging and incentives to get people and sponsors to attend, and so much more - without any type of committee or support to help.
This may sound intense, but it’s what so many of us do. I myself have certainly been guilty of it in past roles. We say, well, last year was a fluke because of XYZ, so we need to change it up this year. And in the process, we take away our ability to build momentum and learn from experience to make our campaigns stronger each time we run them.
I think it's important for fundraisers to realize that the grass is not always greener. You are absolutely going to have those moments of “I know exactly who/how I am going to help my team fund this program” - whether it's through an individual donor you know or a grant funder whose mission aligns with the project. But there is also always going to be those moments where you feel your certainty and confidence coming into question. Feeling the tinge of uncertainty of “will this be enough to meet my goal” around certain campaigns, individual asks, or messaging strategies just comes with the territory of nonprofit fundraising. And while that may not be what you or your team members want to hear, I view it as something we can accept and address head-on – because we know it will come!
Instead of the walk, I helped the client identify a way to use the same basic framework of a peer-to-peer campaign - the framework that brought them great results last year! - but help it feel new and fresh with a bit of a different focus. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’d say we’re working on greasing the wheel we created last year. (I am not a mechanic so not even sure if this metaphor works, but let’s roll with it.) This year, we are shifting focus to a group of people who, surprisingly, had made up the most voracious fundraisers in last year’s campaign even though they were not directly involved last year. We’ll update our messages and maybe change up our incentives a bit. But otherwise, we’re keeping things steady. Will it work how we hope? Maybe not. But if it doesn’t, we’ll have reserved a lot of our energy, time, and resources (that otherwise would have gone into building out a last-minute event) into getting more creative in our campaigns later in the year.
I think often, especially from the experts, we hear that fundraising is this perfect formula that, when done right, it’s a sure bet to reach your goals. And I’m here to say (at least in my experience) that isn’t the case. You can certainly set yourself up for success with intentional planning, good relationship building, and a Board and team that are as engaged in the fundraising process as you are. But you’re never gonna know for sure 100% of the time. So, my advice: do yourself the favor of giving your successful ideas a bit more room to grow before you force yourself into a corner of changing things up every single time you run a campaign. Have confidence that you can build on past success, and that your supporters will show up for you, even without all the bells and whistles.
Have thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear them! Respond directly to this email and let me know what you think.
Next month, we’ll dive back into grant writing and research. See you then!