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Five Reasons for Fundraising Failures

Most nonprofits today live and die by their ability to successfully raise funds. The more funds they are able to raise the more good they are able to accomplish.
A successful fundraiser has the potential to do much more than just generate funds for an organization. It can energize staff and board members, it can generate awareness about the importance of the organization’s mission, it can be serve as the beginning of a new relationship with long-term donors and it may generate additional publicity for the organization. Unfortunately, a fundraiser if done incorrectly can produce a strong negative effect in just as many areas and may even end up costing the organization money rather than making it money.

To keep your fundraising efforts on track and prevent your fundraising efforts from becoming fundraising failures consider the following five common mistakes made during fundraising.

Many organizations lack a written plan for their fundraising efforts. Without this important document, they bounce around from one idea to a next. “Oh I know, lets try a letter writing campaign,” someone will suggest sending the agency off in this direction. Another board or staff member says, “The humane society did a pet walk and it worked great for them. People love to walk their pets.” When that doesn’t work out the organization is off to yet another idea. A written plan with clear goals, objectives and a timeline for each effort provides the organization a rudder without which the organization wanders aimlessly and wasting time.

In order for people to participate financially in a fundraiser, they need to understand what it is the organization does and why it is important. Too many fundraising events never reach their full potential because the organization fails to convince the donor of the importance of the mission, or worse yet never even bothers to explain the mission at all. Communications to the public and outreach efforts to specific individuals should communicate a sense of urgency for the need that the organization meets. “There are 300 children who go hungry in the city each day,” or “100 wild horses will be put to sleep without this organization’s efforts and we need your help” are examples of clearly stating the need. The message should then be repeated at the event so that people are reminded of why it is important that they give.

Removing the fun from fundraisers can be a crucial mistake. Fundraisers are most successful when they attract repeat donors. These individuals are more likely to donate at higher levels and invite others who are willing to do the same. Keeping a donor coming back is often the result of making sure that they have a good time. Outward Bound which puts on a black tie and tennis shoe annual dinner, sets up ropes courses and climbing walls and has a high number of returning donors year after year.

Over and over planning for fund raising events is left to the last minute. Invitations don’t go out in time for individuals to make plans to attend; auction items aren’t secured in time for a sneak preview in the form of a letter or program; and special guests in the form of important legislators or other persons of honor are not asked far in advance making it impossible for them to fit the event into their schedules.

One of the most frequent mistakes made in fundraising letters and at fund raising events is the failure to “make the ask.” All to come in the fund development field is the direct appeal letter that lacks the direct appeal. Yes, it’s important to explain the mission, give a heart warming story about how the organization has impacted the life of a client, but most important is stating in no uncertain terms what is wanted from the reader. The same is true for an annual fund raising dinner. Success is dependant on not being shy, “We need you to donate today.”

The most important thing to keep in mind about fundraising failures is that they are preventable. If organizations know where the pitfalls lie, plan carefully, and work diligently to meet the needs of donors every fundraiser can be a success.

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David Westbrook is a freelance writer living in Portland Oregon. For more information on fundraising, see and

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