All of us were new to fundraising at some point. Even if you have a long tenure as a development professional, on-boarding new staff and volunteers can be a good reminder to look with new eyes on your organization. Keep this list of nine ways to get started as a fundraiser close to hand as you build your (and your team’s) fundraising muscle.
Tip #1: Get to know your board members.
Review the board roster and learn how they are identified in your database. Schedule a brief conversation with each board member, either in person or over the phone. Find out how they got involved with your organization and what draws them to the mission. Your board members ought to be some of your most ardent fundraising allies, and these initial conversations will serve you well as you work together.
Tip #2: Make an online donation to your organization.
Get a feel for what donors experience as they make a donation through your website. Is the donation form easy to fill out, or do you feel it asks too many unnecessary questions? What kind of email confirmation do you receive? Understanding this process in your early days will give you a leg up when it comes to making improvements.
Tip #3: Find out what reports you’re responsible for, when those reports are due, and to whom.
If you need to provide a regular report to your boss, or the development committee, spend time in advance learning what the report entails and practice running it. Have a colleague review it to make sure it’s what they’re used to. This way, you’ll already be familiar with the process when it’s time to generate the report for real. (Hint: If you want to make improvements to the report, consider presenting the “standard” report alongside a “new” version. Then point out what you changed and why.)
Tip #4: Review the development plan.
You’re likely inheriting a segment and/or the existing plan from your predecessor. Spend some time reviewing it and going over it with a colleague. Ask what times in the year tend to be the busiest. If it’s not clear from the plan, make sure you know what amount each event or appeal is expected to raise. You might get a sense of elements you’d like to change or add for next year’s plan (such as launching a planned giving program). Keep note of those ideas so you can bring them up with the team when it’s time to plan for the new year. If your organization isn’t following a development plan, seek out samples so that you can help to develop one in the future.
Tip #5: Learn how data is managed.
Having access to good data, and knowing how to maintain it, is one of the most important assets in a fundraiser’s toolbox. Where does your organization store data about its donors? When gifts are received, how are they recorded? If your organization uses a donor management system like to track this critical information, it’s essential that you dedicate time to familiarizing yourself with the system. Your organization may rely on Excel spreadsheets or Google docs to store its data, and if so, this is a good time to ask “Is now the right time to invest in a donor management system?”
Tip #6: Start your day with 3 thank you calls
Set time aside every day to thank donors. Choose three recent donors and call to thank them. As fundraisers, our days can become hectic, and we are often pulled in directions that we didn’t plan. If your day goes awry and you don’t get what you planned to get accomplished, you can always feel good because you know that you called three donors that morning.
Tip #7: Meet with the person in charge of organizational messaging
As you are out meeting with donors are representing the organization, it is smart to have your elevator speech and key messages in your toolbox. This person can help you with your messaging about the organization, programming efforts, strategic initiatives, and any other relevant communication. This person can also help anticipate any tough questions and help prepare your responses. (Why did your organization change its policy around serving certain populations? Why did the Executive Director leave last month? Etc.)
Tip #8: Visit your pledgers
Oftentimes, the pledge payments of a donor outlast a fundraiser’s tenure with the organization. Because of this, sometimes pledgers can be forgotten, especially if they are making their payments annually. Query your database for anyone who is making pledge payments and call to schedule a visit. Not only will this help to ensure future payments, it will ensure that the donor is getting updates on what s/he is supporting.
Tip #9: Review your retention/acquisition rate
Whether you are in charge of one revenue stream or the entire revenue budget, your retention rate will give you a temperature check on current and past efforts. This year-over-year analysis will show you how many donors are renewing their gifts, how many are lapsing, and how many are new. Those data points will help you build your strategy for the next 60 days.
Any other tips you’d give a new fundraiser? Offer them up in the comments below.