DickersonBakker Blog

Avoiding the Trap of Hail Mary Fundraising

The seasons for two of my favorite things — football and fundraising — are now in full swing!

In fundraising–as in football–you can’t build a winning major gifts strategy solely on “Hail Mary” passes.  Just like in football, the best fundraising strategies focus on solid execution of basic plays that will advance the ball and move the chains five yards at a time, play after play after play. At its most effective, fundraising is not flashy, it is built on discipline and strategy.

Unfortunately, I see too many nonprofits fall into the Hail Mary trap in their fundraising. They focus on a single big event or on a handful of mega donors to save the game. This often starts because they were rewarded once when a Hail Mary strategy worked—or worse yet, when it worked at some other agency. One small organization I worked with a couple years ago was counting on a million dollars in bequests to meet their budget… that’s what they received the past couple years, so now they were counting on people to die and leave them a windfall every year! That may be an extreme example, but the plain fact is that too many nonprofit leaders are transfixed on their next big play rather than focusing on the fundamentals.

The appeal is hard to avoid.  Big flashy plays that make the highlight reels can be exciting and memorable (Florida Gators fans will be talking about this one for years to come). But you don’t want to build the long-term success of your fundraising program on the thin hope of a Hail Mary. Sure they can help you win games, but don’t count on them as a foundation for a winning season.

As we enter the fourth quarter of 2017, fundraising teams need to get to the business of executing the basic plays that are proven to move the chains down the field.  How do you do that?  Here are four simple disciplines you can put into place to ensure you end this year’s major gift fundraising game on top:

  1. Map a plan – Take out your list of top donors (whether in your personal portfolio or agency) and map out a personalized year-end solicitation strategy for each donor. List out your approach, offer, ask amount, timing, etc.  Don’t be lulled into treating each major donor the same.  Tailor your strategy to each donor for the biggest impact.
  2. See your Donors – In this era of technologies including social media, video conferencing, and texting, nothing has yet replaced the importance of meeting face to face with your best donors. The relational component of our work cannot be overstated.  The fall is the time to let dust collect on your desk and go visit your best donors and prospects with specific, customized proposals. I often refer to this as the first rule of C3 : “See the People, See the People, See the People”.
  3. Host a Gathering or a Tour – There is no better way to solidify and elevate your donors’ giving then to provide them with ways to see and experience it firsthand. Oftentimes this can be accomplished in simple ways, such as by hosting a small group gathering or inviting people in for a tour. The more you can provide your donors with opportunities to encounter the life-changing work you are doing in a way that connects to their hearts, the more abundant generosity will follow.
  4. Communicate Impact – While face-to-face cannot be replaced, consistent and persistent donor communications are critical to filling in “the spaces between” visits. This is the second rule of C3 : “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Donors should receive frequent progress updates on the fall campaign highlighting the urgency of the need, impact of support (stories and stats), and how others are coming alongside to support the campaign.

Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest football coaches of all time said, “Winning is a habit. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.”

Fundraising, like football, is as much or more about the habits and discipline of getting up in the morning and applying the simple disciplines and activities that inevitably lead to success.  The fall is upon us…now get out there and WIN!

Is your major gift fundraising team in need of a coach? DB&A partners with clients to improve their fundraising game through effective strategy AND disciplined systems. Contact us  today to get started.

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