I’m a fundraising consultant. And, as a fundraising consultant, I’m involved in bidding on a lot of RFPs in the course of a year. These RFPs come from charities and NGOs who are looking for an agency partner that will add lots of value to their fundraising program. And usually, adding value means adding to net revenues at the end of the year.

So, what do these charities tell us (the consultants) that they’re looking for in a new agency to work with?

  • Do they ask for a consistent and disciplined focus on fundamentals? Rarely.
  • Do they ask for an agency that will help to teach them best practices in their programs? Not that often at all.
  • Do they ask for the practices that successful charities use to maximize their revenue growth? Not really.

What are they looking for?

More often than not, the RFPs I read and respond to ask for things like ‘innovation’, ‘the latest trends’ or ‘cutting edge practice’.

Why do they think it’s important?

I have a personal theory that I’d like to put forward to you. I believe that we humans are always looking for a faster and easier way to achieve our goals. That’s natural I guess. Look at fitness products or weight loss supplements. They make big promises and offer us a very easy route to a goal that we’ve found very hard to achieve.

The only problem is that these new, shiny, easy things usually don’t work the way they say they do. And, it’s the same in fundraising.

Do you remember five summers ago? In 2014, the world was swept up in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now, that phenomenon was an amazing, unique philanthropic fire that ignited and found tremendous momentum through all sorts of media channels.

But, it was a virtual Haley’s Comet. One of those once-in-a-lifetime events that can’t be replicated. Yet, for three years after its success, I had charities asking me how they could do one. And, sadly, my answer was ‘The odds are 99.9% that you can’t’.

Shiny things are a part of my conversational life. A fundraiser will tell me ‘Our board chair wants us to do crowdfunding’ or ‘My executive director wants us to raise money on Pinterest’.

Shiny things in fundraising are like lottery tickets. They’re nice to have, but you shouldn’t expect to win – not by a long shot.

THE fundraising fundamentals you should focus on instead

Instead of shiny new things, why doesn’t your organization commit itself to focus down on these six fundamentals of best practice?

  1. Do you have an actual strategy? Is it written down?
  2. Have you identified the audience(s) that are most likely to support your cause? Have you figured out how best to reach them?
  3. Do you have a powerful and persuasive case for support that brings your mission to life? Have you tested your case with your target audience(s)?
  4. Do you have a specific tactical plan for the fiscal year that includes schedules, projected costs and estimated revenues? Will you measure your actual results against your projected outcomes and make changes to your program based on actual results?
  5. Do you take the time to tell powerful and persuasive stories to emotionally and intellectually engage your audience?
  6. Do you spend as much time and money thanking donors and showing gift impact as you do soliciting? In other words, are you committed to donor relationships more deeply than financial transactions?

So – the next time someone from your board comes to you with a shiny new thing that they want to try, show them this list of six fundamentals and suggest that the search for shiny things should happen only when the six are in place.

Who knows? It might just work…