Wednesday, November 30, 2016

15 Important Fundraising Questions

Are you meeting your fundraising goals? In order to be successful in raising the money to support your nonprofit work, you need to focus on three things: building your database, developing and maintaining positive relationships with donors - and actually asking people for contributions. Here are some questions you should be thinking about:

1. Is everyone on your staff collecting contact information (email, mailing address, all phone numbers, particular interests) to expand your database on an ongoing basis?
2. Do you have a mailing list form for people to sign up to receive your email and mail available at your front desk and at every event you do?
3. Do you maintain and update information on all your donors in your database, including a detailed giving history?
4. Are brochures and remit envelopes available at your front desk, in your offices, and at all events?
5. Does your website feature an attractive, prominent donate button on every page?
6. Have you actually checked, step-by-step, to see whether your donation page is user-friendly, on home computers and on mobile phones?
7. When people call or stop by your office, is your staff immediately welcoming and helpful (or do they keep their eyes glued to their computer screens) - and do you have a clear policy that one-on-one personal contacts always take precedence over computer work?
8. Do you send out a weekly enewsletter with information about your services, programs, events, clients, and donors?
9. Is there a link to your donation page on your enewsletters?
10. Can a potential donor easily find information on your website (including contact person) about making a gift of stock, and do you have a brokerage account (preferably Schwab) to facilitate this?
11. Do you make a specific effort to be in touch with donors throughout the year (personally, via mail, and email), not just during your fundraising campaigns?
12. Are you making a pitch for donations at every event you sponsor?
13. Are your board and staff (including the Executive Director) trained to make personal asks - and are they actually getting on the phone, arranging meetings, and soliciting donations?
14. Are you asking for donations more than once a year?
15. Are thank you letters sent out promptly - to everyone - and do you also follow up with personal thank you calls to significant donors?

If you've answered no to any of these questions, it's time to go back to the drawing board. I know fundraising isn't easy - it's hard and it's never ending. But the bottom line is that you need to do that hard work and make those asks and get those donations in order to create the community of supporters your organization needs to sustain your programs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Who's Minding the Money?

Do you really understand your organization's fiscal reports? When I ask the most basic of questions - what is your total annual budget? - most board members haven't a clue. That spreadsheet with lots of numbers on it? I'm betting many of them haven't even looked at it, and if they have, they are not really sure what it all means.

Prudent fiscal management is one of the most important responsibilities for nonprofit boards. Here are some tips on how to help your board step up to the plate:
  • Make fiscal reports understandable. For the numbers people: Your spreadsheets should clearly indicate all income and expense categories, and these should be consistent on both ends. They should include two previous fiscal year final reports, current year projections, year-to-date income and expenses, and a revised current year projection - so folks can easily contrast and compare past, present, and future. For the words people: Provide a narrative report that addresses any significant variances, explains shortfalls and/or surpluses in individual categories and overall, and makes clear which grants or donations are one-time only or restricted. For the visual folks: use charts, graphs, or dashboards (or all three, if necessary). Use colors - red for areas of concern, green for pleasant surprises, and yellow for nothing to write home about.
  • Schedule regular budget reviews. Conduct thorough reviews on a quarterly basis at board meetings, with monthly updates in between. Evaluate cash flow, where your revenue is coming from, any changes in programming, and any unexpected expenses or income.
  • Update your budget projections throughout the year. Change happens; this doesn't need to be a problem if you are tracking it, ready to assess what that means for your organization, and prepared to take necessary action promptly.
  • Aim for a surplus. Yep - just because your organization is nonprofit doesn't mean you can't. In fact, working towards a surplus is a prudent financial goal, because it makes it possible to consider raising salaries or hiring new staff or buying new computers.
  • Plan for the future. Every organization should have a program reserve fund with a minimum of three months (but ideally six months) operating expenses, in case of emergencies or another significant recession. You should also have a capital reserve fund with money set aside for major facility improvements and/or equipment upgrades. And don't just wish for reserves - plan for them. Designate a portion or all of any budget surplus for these funds.
  • Establish financial policies. For every reserve fund, your board needs to have a clearly articulated policy about how these funds can be used, and how decisions are made about that use. And that's not enough - your board needs to know and understand these policies, update them periodically, and enforce them.
Most important of all, encourage everyone to ask questions. Even questions that seem stupid or embarrassing. That's how you do your job; that's how you make sure your nonprofit is on a solid financial footing.