Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Are you stuck in a fundraising "Rut"?

Because we work with over 1,000 charities each year, meet with many of them and talk to every single one on the phone, we are fortunate to be able to determine when a charity is caught in a fundraising “Rut.”  But normally, the reason they are talking to us is to get out the situation they are in and start on a course of success.

However, we also talk to many more charities who are not even aware that they are stuck there.  Remarkably, they are unaware that their situation will never change in regard to raising more funds year after year.  When I have the chance to speak to them, they normally remark that they need to attract “Big Spenders” and ask if I can bring them to their event.  The sad part is, they don’t realize why they are there and will rarely listen to wise advice.

To determine if you or your charity is caught in a fundraising rut, let me ask just a few questions that you obviously can answer to yourself:

#1 – How many years have you been hosting your Charity Event?

#2 – Is your charity event a Fundraiser?  An Awards Ceremony?  A Community Event?  Or all of the above?

#3 – Have your fundraising dollars increased over that time?  Meaning, have you made more each year?  Or has your fundraising dollars decreased?

#4 – How many guests do you have attending your charity fundraising event?  Have your guests increased year after year?  Or has attendance gone down?

#5 – Has your charity fundraiser changed or evolved each year?  Or is it the same?

#6 – Based on your event, have you attracted more and more Event Sponsors?  Or lost them?

#7 – Do you go to the same Donor’s year after year and ask for similar donations as you did the previous year?

#8 – Do you only use donated products in your events live and silent auction?

#9 – Do you truly know what the “Net” or Profit was from your last event?  Do you know the previous years “Net”?

Now, using the above questions as a baseline in order to determine if you are in a fundraising rut, we need to first understand what Successful Fundraising truly is.   But in the same vein, you should also understand that Awards Ceremonies and Community Outreach events such as Festivals are fantastic but cannot be thought of as a “Fundraiser.”  There may be a fundraising component to each of these types of events but the focus should be on the mission of the event itself – awarding community members and employees or building awareness of your charity by inviting everyone to come to a Festival of sorts without a ticket cost. 

A successful fundraising event is structured, planned for financial performance.  Guests of fundraising events understand that the event is being hosted to raise funds with a certain “Ambience” to attract them.  The “Ambience” is a dinner, drinks, music with various fundraising platforms such as a Live & Silent Auction and various games/raffles. 

To best show a true example of a charity who understands successful fundraising as well as absolutely needs the funds to be raised, I will show you their numbers – however, I am going to call them “Charity ABC.”

As reported to Charity Navigator (, in 2013, here are their numbers:

Charity ABC fundraising statistics:

Contributions & Gifts:       $32,184,911
Federated Campaigns:      $406,557
Membership Dues:            $18,742,745
Fundraising Events:           $22,808,171
Related Organizations:   $333,099

Total Revenue:   $185,148,845.00

All of the above numbers come directly from their Fundraising Events.  They sell memberships to their Charity at their Fundraising Events, in fact, you must purchase a membership in order to attend – it’s a part of the ticket price.  They conduct their campaigns via their events and gain mailing lists for other campaigns from their fundraising event guest lists.  Related organizations?  That is other charities donating money at their fundraising events.

This charity, like other charities similar to them, determined several years ago that a successful fundraising event is the absolute best place to grow their organization.  Why you ask?  Because people attend their events for the “Event” of it and not necessarily to support their charity. 

Charity ABC employs many intelligent people who understand the above statement “Attending the event for the Event of it and not to support their charity.”  Using that knowledge, by the time the guest leaves, they are members and receive quarterly newsletters for one (1) year.

Most importantly, Charity ABC and the other charities similar to theirs, all utilize a similar fundraising tactic – great items in their Live & Silent Auction. 

FACT:  I recently met with an employee of Charity ABC and he bluntly told me that they refuse to rely on donated items, in fact, they discourage their use.  They insist on PURCHASING great items for their events – because great items, attract great people and higher bids.

By the way, “Charity ABC” is Ducks Unlimited. 

How to get your charity out of their fundraising “Rut”

In order to break out of your fundraising “Rut”, you must understand that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  It takes determination and discipline.  If you would like to see your fundraising dollars skyrocket, you first must understand that it is not on a one (1) year plan.  What that means is, you can’t change your event around and expect immediate results.

However, here are the keys to success:

#1 – Guest TrainingIf you have been hosting a mediocre fundraising event which
has had either similar or declining results, you must begin to train your guests on your spending expectations.  Recently, we were assisting a charity and their guests routinely asked where the cheap items were.   After they saw our items mixed in with many donated items, their spending went from rock bottom to extremely high on the donated products – beyond the expectations of both the Chairman of the Board and several of the volunteers.  You must train your guests on what is expected of them plus you must stick with it for more than one (1) event.  

#2 – Type of Fundraising Event – If you are hosting an event which has a small fundraising component or fundraising is not the main focus of the event, separate the two (2) events – host an Awards dinner or a “Community Outreach” event with a small fundraising component.  Then plan a Charity Fundraising event and let the focus be on that specifically.

#3 – Argumentative Staff or Volunteers – If your staff or volunteers argue that they like the “Old Way” they were doing things but you and the leadership know they need to make a change, have the discipline to explain why you are changing the tactic and why.  Remember, argumentative staff means they have passion for your charity – use that to your benefit.

#4 – Understanding and accepting fundraising reality – Perhaps the hardest part of this is both you and your staff understanding and accepting the reality of successful fundraising in 2014.  I have written blogs on this topic but in summary, putting it bluntly, businesses cannot donate fantastic items.  They can only donate items which they either want to get rid of or are not selling in their stores.  You must have items available that attract people while urging them to bid – and bid high.  Using our “No Risk Auction Items” benefits you and your charity and in fact, is guaranteed. 

In summary – while planning your next fundraising event, if you are “Aiming Low” financially, you will hit low.  But if you have the discipline to train yourself to “Aim High” financially, you will hit high.

But the question is – are you ready?  If you are, BW Unlimited Charity Fundraising would love to help.  Contact us today at  Let us help you and your charity break out of the Fundraising Rut you are in.

BW Unlimited Charity Fundraising is a Charity Fundraising Leader in North America in a “One Stop Shop” setting.  The staff at BW Unlimited Charity Fundraising is the foremost experts in regard to planning and executing a successful Charity Fundraising event.   BW Unlimited Charity Fundraising can not only consult you on how to plan and host your event but can also provide you and your charity with a wide array of No Risk Auction Items such as Charity Travel Packages, Autographed Memorabilia, beautiful Decorative items as well as exquisite jewelry.  If you would like our help, contact us today at  Let us help you with your next charity fundraising event.