Advancing Philanthropy

Introspective Practices: Does Your Fundraising Spark Joy?

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woman holding a sign that says joy

Above Photo Credit: Preslie Hirsch

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Fundraising

We are working in both the most exciting and, possibly, most difficult time to be in the nonprofit sector. Exciting because we know so much more now about how to fundraise effectively. Our profession is overwhelmed with research, data, and studies that demonstrate what works and what doesn’t in every aspect of our field.   

It’s an exciting time in fundraising because, as GivingUSA and multiple other studies reports, giving is growing. Year after year, we continue to see charitable dollars rise exponentially.

It’s equally challenging because, with all this knowledge, we have so much more to balance as fundraisers. We are learning new skills, integrating new technology and communication channels, and meeting higher demands and goals, all while discovering new ways of using data to inform decisions and measure performance.

It’s no wonder we continue to see high attrition rates for fundraisers and lowering job satisfaction in the nonprofit sector.

What we need is a little joy. Amidst all this noise, hustle, and grind, how can we infuse our work with the joy and passion that brought us into it in the first place?

What is Joy in Fundraising?

Joy in fundraising is when the donor meets the mission, and the beneficiary is served. What got all of us into this work is the privilege of being able to invite donors and donors-to-be into the life-changing promise of hope our nonprofits deliver.

Yet, we so often seem to be struggling with the work of fundraising that we can lose sight of that passion. Joy in fundraising is balancing the “three-legged stool” of data + message + process, and when all three are in sync, we’re able to focus more on development and less on raising funds.

Joy in fundraising is about creating and nurturing a system that supports our work, is easy to manage and supports and champions our goals.

Organizational Joy

We tend to think of fundraising in linear terms. Ask for a gift, receive the gift, acknowledge the gift, report on the impact, ask again. The standard donor life cycle (Identify, Qualify, Cultivate, Solicit, Steward) is a direct line of cause-effect, and the donor pyramid creates a straight line of relationship.

The reality is that fundraising functions much more like a system. In “Introduction to Systems Thinking,” Daniel H. Kim, Ph.D., co-founder of Pegasus Communications Inc. and co-founder of the MIT Center for Organizational Learning, defines a system as “… any group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent parts that form a complex and unified whole that has a specific purpose.” He further points out that for a system to carry out its purpose optimally, all parts must be present, and the order in which they’re arranged affects the system’s performance.

If we start to look at fundraising through the lens of systems thinking, we see how interdependent each part of the fundraising process is upon the other. It’s impossible to acknowledge—or steward—a donor’s gift if we don’t have strong data entry practices. We can’t have strong data entry practices if we don’t have a functioning database or protocols to manage one. Reporting to a donor on the impact of their gift—and, therefore, potentially, re-soliciting them—becomes a frustrating effort if we don’t have data input correctly.

In times of adversity—like a global pandemic, for example—clear, well-defined systems take on ever greater importance. In the book “Atomic Habits,” James Clear says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Data is one of the most important and valuable organizational assets. So, the first step in sparking joy is giving attention to the internal organizational systems that affect our fundraising.

  1. Who in your organization is responsible for donor data management?
  2. Do they have the appropriate tools, resources and training?
  3. Are there clear data entry protocols and precise data management and accountability policies?
  4. Is it easy to pull a report or an individual donor’s giving history?
  5. Is the data correct and up-to-date, or does it have to be edited and manually manipulated in order to use?

Investing in strong data practices that support deep, engaging relationships with donors creates an ease of function that allows you—the fundraiser—to focus more on relationships and less on the problems of the infrastructure.

Treating data, and the systems and functions that manage it, as assets rather than just “tools,” places a prioritization on systems that support effective, joyous fundraising.

Personal Joy

We spend about a third of our lives at work. It’s no wonder that the frustrations and challenges we face on the job spill over into our personal lives—particularly in work like fundraising, where it is tied to personal beliefs and passions.

Within a data audit, establish reporting parameters and define key metrics that will inform your data decisions.

The more streamlined our work is, the more joyous we can be in approaching it, especially when we spend so much time on the job.

make today amazing sign on a window
Photo: © Pablo de la Fuente

Creating personal joy in the workplace is about eliminating various challenges through a strategic investment in the systems and processes you use. None of us like chaos, but the individual investments we make as employees and colleagues, collectively affect the overall outcome and lead to personal and organizational joy.

In other words, do the hard work up front so that the day-to-day is less challenging and frustrating. Only then can you maximize your time and focus on the main task at hand—establishing strong relationships with your donors.

Setting up systems, such as standard reports and reporting structures, makes those last-minute requests no longer a burden. Utilizing standard gift structures that are already set up in your database, like “designation,” “campaign,” and “appeal,” allows you to use your own data to inform operational strategies and eliminate the need to rely solely on industry standards or best practices. These tools will enable you to track who gives, which channels they respond to and their communication preferences. From this, you can begin communicating with your donors when, how and where they want—maximizing the individual donor experience. Collectively, your data tells a story worth exploring and sharing.

Being The Joy

As fundraisers, or representatives of the organizational mission, we can only spread institutional joy once we assess our operational assets. In other words, clean data tells a story, and creating processes to protect and value that data is essential.

But where does an organization even start? A data audit!

Data audits allow organizations to assess the health of data and security; establish processes and procedures that go beyond any one employee’s tenure, which creates organizational consistency; and improve one’s ability to pull consistent and useful reports.

With any good data audit, you’ll want to focus on three key stages in the process: Assess, Address and Prevent.

  • First, you need to assess the quality of your data. What needs attention? Are there some clear and serious data quality issues? Are you missing usable addresses or other contact details for your donors? Do you have the data you need to measure the efficacy of your fundraising and track (and communicate) impact? What can your current donor software help you uncover?
  • Second, once you’ve taken stock of your data, it’s time to start addressing the issues you’ve uncovered. Prioritize each item and make a plan to tackle them, leveraging technology where you can to work as efficiently as possible. Be careful, though; when it comes to data quality, sometimes it pays to be precise. You can do a lot of damage with a sledgehammer, but taking the time to work with a scalpel can pay big dividends.
  • Finally, you’ll want to take steps to prevent some of the data issues you’ve uncovered from happening in the future. You can’t prevent every data issue because even the best data gets stale. Quality data is a lot like bananas—they are good for you, but you can’t just let them sit forever because they won’t last. Instead, evaluate your systems to make sure you’re doing all you can, from data entry practices to regular data quality checks, to keep your data as fresh and clean as you can.

Time is a precious resource. Organizations and fundraisers must prioritize what data is necessary, useful and practical to maintain. Within a data audit, establish reporting parameters and define key metrics that will inform your data decisions. When clearly defining key metrics, consider the following.

  1. Why are the metrics important?
  2. How are we defining the specific metric?
  3. Can we easily measure the metric?
  4. Where will we see and use the metric?
  5. Can our use and measurement of the metric remain consistent year over year?

Clean data, and processes to maintain that data, create consistency and ease within an organization, ultimately making the work we do more joyful. As owners of the process, we begin to share the joy through telling the donor’s and the organization’s story, magnifying purpose and sparking joy in others.

Sparking Joy in Fundraising

We hear so often that fundraising is the IMPACT profession. Through our work as fundraisers, we have the opportunity to make a great impact on the communities we serve, as well as the lives of donors who fulfill their philanthropic visions through the organization’s mission.

It is hard work, but hopefully it is entered into with passion, commitment, and, yes, joy. The trifecta of joyous fundraising exists in three key areas:

  • Happier staff, engaging with
  • Happier donors, so that
  • Beneficiaries are better served.

By investing in and proactively tackling the challenges that face us in process and systems management, fundraising truly can be a joyful experience.

T. Clay Buck, CFRET. Clay Buck, CFRE, is a thirty-year fundraising veteran and is the founder and principal of TCB Fundraising, a nonprofit fundraising and communications consultancy focused on building individual giving at all levels. An AFP Master Trainer, he holds the Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology, With Distinction, and teaches in the graduate school and fundraising certificate programs at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Lindsay McCrearyLindsay McCreary, director of philanthropy operations at La Jolla Country Day School, has a wide-range of operational fundraising experience, including multi-million dollar special events, database management and migration, annual and special giving campaigns, and managing two nine-figure capital campaigns with a large hospital foundation.

Scott Richards Scott Richards is the director of Training & Education at Virtuous, though he’s been involved in nearly all facets of Virtuous over the years. Previously the head of training at WealthEngine, Scott has spent over a decade teaching nonprofits how to make the best use of technology solutions.

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