Creating Sustainable Growth in Your Fundraising—Part 1

by Larry Johnson on February 6, 2017
“We have sustainable fundraising”, you say, “and it increases every year.” 
Over half of the nonprofits today are expected to fail in the next five years.  Factor in a healthy percentage that are perennially on financial tenterhooks and you see the delusion in that statement.
So, what IS “sustainable fundraising”?
First let’s look at what it’s NOT.
It’s not running a cash fundraising program built upon a one-size-fits all recipe or “fool proof” system.  Do this, say that, look this way. 
It’s not holding one transactional event after another held to the dismay of real investors. 
It’s not a once-and-done secret incantation that promises nirvana by just adding water.
Aside from the fact that these aren’t what they pretend to be, these lock-step approaches dehumanize your generous investors by referring to them as “ripened fruit” and calling gatherings of prospective investors as “ask events.”  I kid you not.
What passes as “sustainable” in most programs is a never-ending race on the fundraising treadmill.  Relax but for a moment and the whole program unwinds.   Everything stops.
There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.
The Venerable “Y”
The YMCA is one of the oldest, most respected, brands in the nonprofit arena. When you hear the expression “the Y” visual images of health, community service, bright-faced children, motivated adolescents, and of course physical fitness and the gym come to mind.
My wife and were recently solicited for our leadership gift to the Healthy Kids Campaign, the proceeds from which enable our local Y to have a tremendous positive impact on the lives of many children and families in our community.
In this case, my neighbor whom I know and respect approached me for my gift.
As my neighbor visited with us, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much undeveloped fundraising potential lies fallow, how many philanthropic resources are never claimed, even for an organization as established and honored as the “Y”.
Starting in the Right Place
It isn’t for lack of trying.  In fact, it’s the “trying” that often gets in the way.  We’re addicted to doing.  Fundraising becomes a race—an annual race that begins anew immediately after you’ve reached the finished line.  Go out and get it.  Make the asks.  Meet the deadlines. Blow through the goal.
Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this.  That is, IF you’ve done the right thinking before you launch out.
Being successful in fundraising is much, much more about how you think than what you do.
I call this starting in the right place. 
Most nonprofit organizations—even many local Y’s—labor needlessly fighting a fundraising headwind of their own making.  As a result, they leave vast sums lying literally “on the table” each year.
Because they’ve failed to understand that there are unchanging truths that govern all philanthropy and internalize these into the cultures of their organizations.
I call these principles The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising®.  These eight truisms are straightforward, clear and authentic.  You can even say “simple.”
It’s the simple part that often trips people up.  Simple yet profound.  Easy to understand yet demanding consistent, strategic effort to implement.
In this two-part series, we’ll make the journey that begins when you’ve acquired a thorough understanding of the unchanging principles which govern philanthropy.  You then shape your program to fit within those principles and, finally, choose the set of processes—the fundraising programs that will yield lasting success.
Make this journey, internalize the truths and you simply cannot fail.
Fundraising programs which use The Eight Principles™ as their starting point produce revenue streams that are virtually impervious to external economic conditions while scaling to levels reaching to their supporters’ true giving abilities.
Here, in brief, are The Eight Principles™:
Principle 1:  Donors are the Drivers®
Donors “drive” the philanthropic enterprise not with their money but with their closest held personal values and desires for self-fulfillment.
Principle 2:  Begin at the Beginning™
The starting point for sustainable fundraising is the crafting of a mission and vision that is communicated from the donors’ points of view and interests.
Principle 3:  Leadership Leads™
Leadership begins with the governing board.  Leadership by example is fundamental to sustainability and scale.
Principle 4:  Learn & Plan™
Learn who your prospective supporters are with respect to their values and visions, then plan how to reach them.
Principle 5:  Work from the Inside Out™
Begin with those prospective supporters who are closest to your organization by relationship and affinity then work outward in concentric networks.
Principle 6:  Divide & Grow™
Treat different donors differently.
Principle 7:  Renew & Refresh™
Renew donors at the highest possible rate then refresh your group of supporters with new faces.
Principle 8:  Invest, Integrate & Evaluate™
You must properly resource your fundraising program, integrate your efforts with a donor focus and continually evaluate what’s working and what’s not.
Once you have seriously internalized these principles, the next step is to create the paradigm for your organization.  Philosophers call this your “ontology”.  That’s just a fancy word for who you are and what makes you tick.
In part two, I’ll develop a fundraising paradigm for the Y’s, then move onto selecting the right tools.

Larry C. Johnson will be leading the session “The Aha Moment in Fundraising” at the upcoming NAYDO conference.

Founder of The Eight Principles™, Larry is the author of the best-selling, award winning book, The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising.  Ranked among the top-15 fundraising coaches in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network, Larry believes in the power of relationships to build a better place.
Larry has coached the volunteers and executives of hundreds of nonprofits.   Larry was awarded the Outstanding Development Executive Award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) in 2010.  In early 2016 he launched the ground breaking fundraising training program, The Oracle League™.  It’s sequential, building-block knowledge approach and all-digital platform is generating rave reviews.   Larry holds the CFRE and is a graduate of Yale University.
Larry and his wife Connie are active members of the Treasure Valley YMCA, and are leadership donors to the annual Healthy Kids Campaign.  They live near Boise, Idaho.

The Eight Principles of Sustainable of Fundraising® and Donors are the Drivers® are registered trademarks of M E Grace & Associates.  All rights reserved.