Ten Questions That Can Reinvigorate Your Fundraising

Wake Up!

Now that we're seeing some sun in Portland, I'm ready to wake up and revitalize my creative and business efforts. Each day I spend a few minutes thinking about what's working, what's not working and what could I do even better.

Before the heat of summer does you in, try taking a similar ground-up look at your fundraising program.

Here are ten questions you should ask yourself -- and (better yet!) several people in your organization -- that will reinvigorate and refocus your fundraising program:

1. In 25 words or less, what does your organization do? By limiting yourself and your colleagues to 25 words, you get at the essence of what your organization does, the chewy center that hooks your donors and makes your work real to them. If you're on the ball, you've already got a great elevator pitch worked up. That's the kind of answer you're looking for here.

2. What is your story? Everyone at your organization should know your story -- how and why you were founded, what initial obstacles you encountered and what successes spurred you on, how you got from those beginnings to where you are today. Think of a traditional story arc and try to tell your own story in that way.

3. Who is your customer/donor and what distinguishes him/her? In order to craft a compelling fundraising letter, you need to know who you're writing about and who you're writing to. The same is true for your entire program. What kind of people benefit from the work you do? And what kind of people think that's important? Look at your donor file -- how old is your average donor? Male or female? Where do they live? How much money do they make? How much education do they have? Target your letter to your donors as much as you can for the best results.

4. Why is this work so important, and why are you passionate about it? This is the emotional core of what your organization does, the gut-punch that moves your donor and inspires him or her to give. Use as powerful language as you can muster -- don't hold back!

5. What problem are you trying to solve and what steps are you taking to solve it? Here's the meat of your 'Ask' -- the very reason for your letter to the donor. Be as specific as possible here. Will a $20 gift provide lunch for 5 underprivileged students for one week? If you have more than one problem to tackle, write them all down. You may not use all of them in every fundraising effort, but having them on hand will help in the future.

6. If you could have unlimited funding to do one thing for the organization/constituents, what would it be? We all have those "If I won the lottery..." fantasies. Well, here's where you consider what life would be like if your organization won the lottery. You won't include all of this in any one letter, but it's an important exercise to dream big. What specific things could you and would you do if you had unlimited funds? Show your donors your vision, and they just might show you a larger gift than usual.

7. What does your work accomplish? For you personally? For one constituent? For many constituents? For the world? Donors want to hear that their contribution is accomplishing something important. Include a personal anecdote about a time you were moved or inspired by something your organization did. Tell the stories of people whose lives your donors have impacted through their gifts. Tell them how their support is changing the world!

8. Have you gotten feedback from constituents/donors? A couple of well-placed quotes from people who have experience with your organization can add a huge portion of credibility to your fundraising letters. Ask volunteers why they like being involved with your work, conduct a donor satisfaction survey, and write it down every time one of the people you help says a heartfelt thank you.

9. What is one big success you've had? One failure? Your successes add credibility to your organization. They show that you are able to do what you set out to do. Remind your donors every chance you get that you have a track record to accomplish what you're asking them to fund. And while you may not want to include a failure in a letter to a donor, understanding failure and the opportunities that come from it is critical to your success.

10. What are the barriers to your success and how do you overcome these obstacles? It's not always fun to sit down and think about those things that hold us back. But your donors want to hear that you have a clear view of the task before you and a strong and innovative plan to accomplish it.

Whether you've got a new development officer or consultant to acquaint with your work...you need an overhaul of your fundraising efforts...you're trying something new in your direct mail or online fundraising...or you just want to inject new spirit into your fundraising program...answering these ten questions can help you reinvigorate yourself and your organization.

How do you recharge your fundraising? Any tricks I should know about? Please share them in the comments!