Unmet Fundraising Goals and How to Capitalize

Nonprofit Management

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About the author:

Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTAs and PTOs. Clay is a Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas.

Keep these healthy, productive responses in mind when things don’t go as planned for your annual giving.

It’s no secret that fundraising and resource development demands energy and persistence with few analogs in other industries. You and your team doubtlessly plan annual giving campaigns for months each year. But what qualities will carry you through if things either turn out exceedingly well or veer far off from what you expected?

In this article, we’ve got some tips on reacting and responding to the possibility that your fundraiser may not meet its goal. Responding well in this moment of disappointment may pay dividends in future fundraisers that will help you retain donors, maintain programmatic support, and show the persistence that counts.

You know the adage: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” It’s the truism that sometimes, no matter how perfectly your map is made, you still may not reach your desired destination. This can be a particularly challenging reality in fundraisers where the success impacts social benefit work that tangibly affects the quality of life in your community.

But, with varying economic conditions, unforeseen circumstances, and changes in major donor support, you may be up against extenuating factors that nobody can prepare for.

If you’re faced with a fundraising result that doesn’t call for confetti, consider these strategies for responding in a way that is healthy and productive.

  • Evaluate Your Fundraiser Immediately
  • Consider Gap-Filling Fundraisers
  • Confront Failures and Celebrate Successes

Evaluate Your Fundraiser Immediately

When your fundraiser is over, no matter what the result, your reflex may be to take a break and a breath. Your team may be worn out from meetings, letter writing, and event planning. Persevere a little longer and take a candid look at your overall performance as soon as you can.

Admittedly, it can be hard to look at something disappointing, but debriefing can be a therapeutic way to discover what was and was not preventable. Did a major donor pass away?  Or did a major corporate grant proposal miss the mark? The process of dissecting the fundraiser by looking first at the numbers and data, and then at qualitative factors, like theme and morale, can help you internalize and regain a sense of control if you feel like your fundraiser got off track.

Evaluating immediately can also help you balance your perspective. You may be focusing on the $25,000 deficit on the fundraising spreadsheet. Resource development managers should balance this fixation by also considering the impact that the $300,000 you did raise will have. You likely tell your donors that every dollar counts; there’s no reason not to believe that yourself.

At the end of your evaluation, prepare a final report that includes:

  • A numbers-based bottom line regarding profits, participation, and year-over-year changes.
  • Qualitative feedback received over the course of the fundraiser.
  • Internal and external factors that had bearing on the outcome.
  • Strategic fundraising goals for the next campaign.
  • A list of best practices.

This process may not make you feel positively about the results, but it will help you make sense of an outcome that can initially be overwhelming—especially if you’re passionate about your organization’s missions and vision. That internalization can be valuable in being a resilient and proactive fundraiser.

Consider Gap-Filling Fundraisers

Fundraisers are often confined by somewhat arbitrary deadlines, though many coincide with fiscal year ends. Though the needs fundraisers meet may be constantly there, the urgency varies over time. Discuss the possibility of hosting some other fundraising effort to fill in the gaps that remain if staff and overhead allow.

Organizations have a variety of options when it comes to gap-filling fundraisers. For example, you may seek a corporate sponsorship of a lump-sum amount. Making a proposal to a local business or regional office of a large corporation can be easier when you have something to show for what you’ve done. Many corporate donors will find the publicity of a matched giving campaign rather appealing as well, where they pledge to match each gift up to a certain amount.

Channel any feelings of frustration or disappointment into positive productivity by taking actions that minimize the sense of loss and reduce the distance between your results and your goal. You might be surprised at how responsive donors and your community are if you demonstrate redoubled commitment to meeting a goal. It’s a positive story you can tell future donors, and it shows how important your mission is.

Confront Failures and Celebrate Successes

A productive reaction is one that builds from successes and failures and makes every outcome a useful one. This involves being able to identify what went well and what went wrong and responding to each category accordingly. Good fundraisers know that this is an essential part of creating a culture of fundraising that improves consistently over time.

First, confront any failures in the overall campaign from strategic approaches to ground-floor tactics. Casting these as “areas of growth” or “opportunities” puts a positive spin on shortcomings but acknowledging that a tactic or strategy didn’t work is the critical lesson. For example, perhaps your nonprofit tried a new event in place of your annual gala, and it flopped. You’ve learned something important: people look forward to your gala, and the tradition and dependability work in your favor. Next year, don’t shake things up as dramatically, and make a big deal out of returning to your beloved event.

It’s important not to fixate on failures, especially those that are easily mitigated. Your fundraising volunteers, as well as staff, need to know that they have a safe place to fail if an idea doesn’t work out. Spaces like these are where ingenuity and commitment thrive. Nonprofits need spaces like these more than ever as social enterprise becomes a hot industry.

Finish off on a high note by celebrating successes. Even if you’ve lauded the same tactic or component of your fundraiser 100 times, the 101st time certainly won’t hurt. Reinforcing good practices and capturing positive responses to an idea will ensure that beneficial strategies are retained year after year.

All in all, failure is rarely final, and you have the chance to set the tone for how a less-than-ideal outcome affects fundraisers going forward. Respond productively and proactively, and you may be surprised by what comes from it.

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