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How to make your fundraising efforts about more than just the bottom line

In an incredibly competitive sector, fundraising can often be over-simplified and reduced to just the bottom line. But to ignore the detail is to miss the point. Here's a few tips on how to make sure fundraising efforts are acknowledged and appreciated as they should be.

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Outside of fundraising circles, the performance of a fundraiser or team of fundraisers can often be boiled down to an overly simplified black and white summary: how much was spent and how much did they raise?

For fundraising professionals, this is fundamentally what we all report against and answer to. After all, if you’re not raising the requisite amounts you are costing the charity vital funds which could be redirected to other charitable purposes.

Yet what is often missed is the nuance, the finer detail. Clear wins are always important, whether it is securing a multi-year grant, large private donation or new corporate sponsor. Yet the downside is they can often eclipse the less obvious – but no less important – successes that make up the daily activities of fundraising.

Fundraising can at times be a grind, so it can be easy for fundraisers themselves not to track these marginal gains and strategic victories. But it’s crucial they are recorded and ultimately celebrated, because while the big wins only come sporadically, it’s the more measured development, comprising the small wins that often combine over time to deliver those marquee successes.

Knowing this is one thing, but capturing the finer detail is another. So how best to go about recording performance beyond the bottom line?

Track your time

As a fundraiser, your greatest resource is often time (or lack thereof), your biggest challenge making the most of it. Knowing where you’ve spent your time is the first step to strategically deciding where you invest it in future, so tracking it is imperative. 

Thankfully, there are a number of free and paid-for solutions available which can make this task less of a chore and ensure accuracy. These range from fully automated computer tracking systems to options with slightly more manually operated. Toggl is just one example, offering both free and paid-for options depending on your level of need (including discounts for charities and not-for-profits). 

Get organised

Whether you specialise in one area, or have responsibility for every revenue stream, fundraising comes with a certain amount of pressure. It’s no surprise it can be easy to get lost in a mountain of applications to send, opportunities to explore, people to thank and reports to write. But if you want to make your efforts as effective as possible and avoid missing those marginal gains, management is key.

Organising your short, medium and long-term tasks and goals helps to separate the wood from the trees and enable you to plot a course through them. Again, thanks to developments in technology, there are a bunch of tools on offer which make getting your house in order easier than ever before. Asana and Trello are two free-to-use apps which provide all the features you need (also offering additional features to paid subscribers if you need a little more functionality). Being able to ‘tick off’ a task as complete can sometimes be achievement enough, and can also serve as an ideal prompt to check your time tracking and reflect on what you’ve done so far.

Furthermore, as a reasonably self-contained aspect of a charity’s activities, fundraising can all-too-easily become a somewhat isolated operation. Using tools like these creates greater transparency between you and your manager/director and enables you to liaise and collaborate with colleagues with clarity. So much more than a simple to-do list, you can set due dates for anything from a request for information from a colleague to those all-important application deadlines. Used to its fullest potential, you’ll almost never need to send an internal email again!

Know your KPIs

KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, are crucial to understanding whether fundraising efforts are providing a return on investment. Your key KPI is of course the amount of money raised, but dig a little deeper and a world of analysis opens up. 

If it’s trusts and foundations fundraising, how many applications did you submit and how many were successful? How much time did you spend on those that resulted in a grant being received vs. those that didn’t make the grade? It’s often the case that organising and hosting events can be a huge drain on time and resources, and not always deliver comparable levels of income. Yet if one of your KPIs is to increase awareness and build subscribers to your mailing list, by that measure it could be deemed a huge success. 

Agreeing your KPIs in partnership with your manager and/or director will help ensure you’re not fighting an uphill battle to get them recognised. And if you’re all pulling in the same direction, it’s a lot easier to see the less obvious wins and silver lining to every cloud.

Celebrate your wins

As I said in my interview with Third Sector last year, as a fundraiser you need to be prepared for failure because it’s part and parcel of the job. But you have to remember to celebrate your wins. If you’re not careful your wins can be fleeting in the pursuit of the next income source – and that includes all those little victories which are so easily overshadowed. 

This extends to the rest of your team, too (and that doesn’t just mean your fellow fundraisers). Whether it’s in an ad hoc way, or at a meeting of the Board of Trustees, make a point of highlighting what you’re achieving week to week, month to month, and why it’s important. You might not be delivering your organisation’s core activities, but without your work, none of it would be possible. 

Work better = better work

Each of us works in a different way, and apps like the ones mentioned don’t work for everyone. But if you can put structures and systems in place in service of clearly defined goals, you’ll be one step closer to using your time more efficiently and ultimately, more effectively. 

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