Nonprofit Fundraising Mistakes

I’m a board member of a local nonprofit and we are about to launch our annual campaign. Like other nonprofits in our community, we are facing a very competitive funding environment. There are more agencies seeking more money from more sophisticated donors.

It’s enough to make you run for cover.

How To Avoid Three Common Mistakes

The reality is that fundraising is not easy, but it isn’t impossible. There are some mistakes to avoid if you want to be more successful.

1. Overestimating what your donors know about you

A recent ad in “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” made this point very well. There is a picture of a couple with their checkbook. The text on the picture reads: “They don’t know why to choose your organization over another, how you handle your finances, if your letter is truthful.” The text ends with the question, “And you want them to donate money?”

Raise awareness of your mission. Let people know that you are good stewards of your finances. Let people know your results. Then, ask them for money.

2. No investment in donor research

When I was growing up, my father used to say, “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”

His advice applies to fundraising. Invest time and resources in donor research.

The first place to start is with your donor records. Look for the donors who have given the largest gifts. Then look for the donors who have given the largest number of gifts. Then, look for the donors who have given recently. Make a list of those donors. They are the donors most likely to give again.

Continue to build on that relationship. Learn more about these donors. Gather information to find out what they think of your organization, why they give, what they want from their philanthropy. You can use surveys, interviews, focus groups or inserts in mailings.

There are two benefits to this approach. First, you will understand your current donors better. Second, you will have credible information that can help you find new donors or bring lapsed donors back into the fold.

3. The wrong fundraising strategy

Sometimes organizations try to implement ideas that other organizations have used successfully.

Before you do, you need to answer some key questions:

What were the specific conditions that made that idea work for that organization?

Do those conditions exist for your organization?

Do we have the capacity to implement that strategy?

What are the real costs?

What can we realistically expect to receive?

A better approach is to learn what strategies have been successful for you. Build on those strategies. Build on what you know about your capacity, your fundraising history, and your donors.

Avoid these mistakes and you will build better relationships with your donors, raise more money and create more sustainable financial support.

About The Author

Judith Rothbaum’s passion is helping nonprofits thrive. She publishes a monthly e-newsletter with practical management, fundraising and communication solutions for bold nonprofits on the move. She presents seminars, workshops and coaching programs nationwide with one key message – – think boldly about who you are and the impact you have in your community. Visit to learn more.