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5 Big Fundraising Mistakes Nonprofits Make

And How to Correct Them

With more than 20 years of fundraising experience, I have seen many nonprofits make the same fundraising mistakes over and over again. Among these mistakes, the following five stand out as the biggest.

Don’t let “biggest” scare you, though. You can easily correct these missteps once you’ve identified them. For a deeper look at the causes of and solutions to each of these, check out my ongoing series on fundraising mistakes.

Mistake 1: Focusing on grants and corporate sponsors instead of individual donors.

Too many organizations become dependent on grant writing and seeking corporate donors and/or sponsors. They want that one big check to save the day. Chasing one big check, though, often leads to one of the biggest fundraising mistakes. Why? Because 72 percent of all money given to charity comes from individuals.

Yes, we do need to get corporations involved in our events. Yes, of course we need to have a grant program. But if you really want to increase your fundraising potential, you should spend the bulk of your fundraising time cultivating relationships with your individual donors.

Mistake 2: Failing to ask volunteers for a cash donation.

Sometimes fundraising leaders believe they can’t ask volunteers for money when they already give their time, or they assume volunteers are not interested in making a donation. Whatever the reason, some belief holds them back from making a fundraising ask.

What’s the problem with these beliefs? Everything. When an organization makes an assumption about volunteers and their willingness to give or giving capacity, they almost always leave money on the table. What’s even worse is that they can create a strain on what was a positive relationship. Studies show volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than non-volunteers. Don’t deny them an opportunity to give in more than one way.

Mistake 3: Ignoring existing donors.

Acquiring new donors is always more expensive than cultivating the donors you have. Every organization needs to have opportunities for new donors to get involved, but what do you do with those donors once they have made a financial contribution? As an industry, our donor retention rate is only 48 percent.

RELATED: Board Giving: When and How to Ask Your Board Members

Ask yourself this question: Are we focused on getting donors and raising money, or on building relationships that will result in donors feeling like a stakeholder because they care about what we do and want to invest in our success? Doing the latter will lead to creating a culture of philanthropy in your organization.

Mistake 4: Getting in a rut with special events.

“We have to start planning the gala for next year!” These are dreaded words. When you do the same event every year because you have to, it turns out the same as last year. Why do we automatically assume that we should do every event every year? I want to challenge this assumption.

Every organization should do a special event analysisevery year, on every event. I am not talking about a revenue versus expenses report (which is a necessity), but a full analysis of all the pros and cons to one specific event. Just realizing that you can decide whether to have the event can change your outlook and get you out of that rut.  

Mistake 5: Not having an annual fundraising plan.

Many nonprofits set their budget goals, but don’t actually break those goals down into some kind of action plan. In fact, I see lots of organizations that set a budget goal that’s higher than last year, but then proceed to do everything the same way as the year before. Can you guess the results?

RELATED: 8 Signs You Need a New Strategic Plan

I believe that you can take valuable time to write a concise and helpful plan with the right process. An annual fundraising plan forces you to: think strategically, set realistic but challenging fundraising goals, focus on new AND existing individual donors, analyze tactics beyond revenue/expense, and spread out responsibility.

How to avoid these common fundraising mistakes

Now that you’re aware of these stumbles, it’s time to reshape your approach with some simple adjustments. You can avoid these five big mistakes nonprofits simply by:

  • Focusing on individual contributions.
  • Asking volunteers for money.
  • Retaining existing donors.
  • Analyzing events every year.
  • Developing an annual fundraising plan.

So there you have it!


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