Do You Need A Fundraising Cleanse?

I’m halfway through a 30-day cleanse.

Wait!  You might be rolling your eyes but, before you stop reading, let me explain.

This isn’t a crazy only-drink-juice-or-lemon-water-with-cayenne-or-something-like-that kind of cleanse.  It’s not a crash diet and it’s not about deprivation.  It’s a program that replaces unhealthy items in your diet with healthy alternatives.  Removing toxic things and adding beneficial things.

It got me thinking…what if we did that with our fundraising?


If your organization is like many, many others, you probably have a few things you do because “that’s how we’ve always done it.”  I’m not talking about traditions or activities deeply connected to mission and history.  I mean the things that have no real strategy behind them but you do because they’re part of the routine.

I mean that event you have because that’s what happens a certain time of year.  The one that takes months of prep, spending countless amounts of energy and attention for a return that, if you included staff hours in the cost, likely breaks even at best or is a net loss. 

What if you replaced that event with an investment of the same amount of hours and attention in your major gifts program?  If you used that same energy to talk with current and prospective major donors, getting to know them and understanding their reasons for being engaged with your mission, how would that change things?  Would removing that event and replacing with relationship building make your fundraising healthier?

I also mean the everyday activities that can be just as toxic. Sending the same letter to every donor in your database.  Making your donor communications all about how great your organization is.  Using a form letter for a thank you.

What if you replaced those impersonal tactics with strategic, segmented, donor-centric activity?  How would things be different if you sent a special welcome to your first-time donors, showed your regular donors the impact of their giving through a personal story and actively reached out to your lapsed donors to let the know they’re missed and valued?  What if you or your Executive Director or members of your board called donors to thank them personally? Would your annual fund be healthier?

As part of my cleanse, I’ve found it helpful to understand why certain foods or ingredients are unhealthy and why others are better for optimizing my well-being.  Do you understand why certain fundraising practices are unhealthy for your organization and others are better for generating results that optimize your mission?  Take some time to read about things like behavioral economics, research on thanking donors and—if you know me you’ll have seen this coming—ethics. They all are key contributors to your fundraising’s and your donors’ well-being.

I get it.  A cleanse can be daunting.  It means doing something that may be unfamiliar and giving up things that feel comfortable.   But, that’s how we get better.  Those are the changes that will take us from simply feeling fine do truly doing great.  You don’t realize how much you are holding yourself back with your choices until you start making different ones.

It all begins with the most important choice: to try.

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