How To Plan for Fundraising Success in the Catholic Church
We can easily become distracted from our goals when confronted with all the challenges that come our way. If we begin to worry about something, it’s natural that we focus our energy and thoughts on that problem rather than our initial goal. Unfortunately, if we do this too often, we eventually slip away and don’t succeed.
This happens to me when I fundraise. I start the year with a plan to raise a set amount of funds, yet as the year goes by, I find myself venturing into tasks that aren’t directly helping me raise money. Why? Because I get so scared about all the challenges that come at me. Fundraising is not an easy job, and when things aren’t working right, I can too easily freeze up and forget what I am doing.
That’s why it’s important to have a practical and straightforward plan when fundraising that you can stick with no matter what happens. Also, you want a plan which measures how well you are doing, helping you stay on track throughout the year. This way, when you see things are not moving forward, you immediately know to readjust your focus and get back to what you should be doing.
Most Catholic organizations, unfortunately, don’t plan for success
When it does come to measuring and tracking performance, most leaders in Catholic organizations don’t consider these activities as essential. They focus instead on the pastoral, social, and human aspects of the work. I commend each of these, as they do have merit. However, the Bible is filled with numbers and measurements. It even has an entire book, Numbers, dedicated to measuring things. God’s name is even a number, The Holy Trinity. Therefore, taking proper measurements and tracking them should be considered.
If measurements are tracked, most Catholic organizations, however, focus on measuring outcomes, such as the amount of money raised. In my experience, I don’t think this is the right way to plan or monitor progress because the amount raised is based on previous results and assumptions of what you think you can and cannot do.
Instead, I’ve learned that a plan which measures tasks rather than outcomes allows my success rate to be much higher. This is because I focus on what I have control over (such as the number of meetings conducted, the number of gift requests made, or the number events hosted).
“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” — William Thomson, the scientist who calculated the correct measurement of temperature.
When you focus on donation sizes and money, you are getting into no man’s land. Sure, you can guess what someone could give, but this shouldn’t be the underlying factor for success. In the grand scheme of things, you don’t have control whether people say yes or no. What you do have control over is what you say, how you say it, and whom you speak with. Therefore, manageable tasks and frequently measuring them are the strong basis for a fundraising plan.
What is a successful fundraising plan?
A plan aims to achieve and measure four objectives: (1) increase the number of people who are connected with your organization, (2) continually identify and cultivate prospects, (3) increase the number of donors, and (4) increase the amount raised.
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” — Luke 14:28.
Let us take a look at how you achieve each of these.
Objective 1: Increase the number of people connected to you
Before someone donates to your organization, they must first learn about what you do. Therefore, your first goal is to increase continually the number of people who know what you do.
1. Identify the words, facts, visuals and emotions that attract people to your organization. I wrote a blog which outlines seven ways how you can inspire people to connect with you.
2. Identify where the people who enjoy what you do spend most of their time and reach out to them. Do they live in a particular place? Do they attend a certain Mass? Do they read certain magazines, journals, or blogs? Rather than spend money on advertisements in a Catholic magazine, thinking that people will read it and visit your website, I recommend researching what mediums have the biggest impact.
The best way to do both of these is to ask your current followers and donors how they connected with you and what inspired them to stay in touch. Then, you just replicate, replicate, replicate. If you do this over and over again, you will hone your message and attract a growing number of followers.
* Feedback from current donors and followers: where they came into contact with you and what inspired them.
* Track all traffic of your different channels: events, 1-on-1s, website, social media, referrals, connections. What are the trends and what factors are causing them?
* Analyze your messaging and adjust regularly. Consider testing several styles to see which works best.
Objective 2: Identify and Cultivate Prospects
Among your growing crowd of followers, you must identify and cultivate which ones are prospects for donations. Many Catholic organizations skip this step altogether and instead ask everyone connected with them to donate. I don’t recommend doing this because you, unfortunately, scare people away. People don’t like to be asked for money before a relationship and trust are founded.
Therefore, it’s important that you spend ample time on this task, allowing you to find the right people to ask. Also, you allow the people who have recently come across your organization the time and space they require to learn more. Or, if someone is still not that active with your group, you don’t bother them with a gift request, but instead, you can reach out for other requests, such as volunteering, attending events, or providing feedback.
1. Collect quantitative feedback about followers — Track who comes into contact with your organization and how often. This can be the number of phone calls, emails, events, campaigns, pilgrimages, or other methods you use to connect with people.
2. Collect qualitative feedback from followers — Find ways to keep track of what people say and how you can respond. You don’t have to track everything, but I do recommend finding simple methods for collecting feedback.
* Dream List (click here to learn how to make this list)
* Track Engagement — this includes email opens, email clicks, social media interaction, attendance at events/meetings
* Feedback — Monitor who is saying what about you, especially if they make hits that they would like to support you
* Number of prospects — This includes why you think they are a prospect for donating. Use the levers to guide you
Objective 3: Increase your number of donors
When it comes time to asking for donations, you will find that asking someone is much easier when you already know who the person is and why you think they can donate. As a result, there isn’t any guessing or unfounded hope. You’ll also avoid many difficult situations with your followers.
Therefore, the best way to ask for donations is to determine, as best as possible, whom to ask. Yes, you have to select people, but it’s not how most people do it, basing on how much you think the person can give. Rather, this is done through four actions.
1. Successfully follow the first two objectives.
2. Collect feedback from current donors as to why they donated. They will tell you how to communicate most effectively when asking prospects for donations, rather than you falling back on generic fundraising terms.
3. Identify your best prospects from the level of engagement and feedback you have collected from them.
4. Based on what you know about each candidate, make a guess at what level you think they can give. There’s no exact science, but more than likely, if you’ve been doing your homework during the first two objectives, you have a good idea of what the person may be interested in giving.
I cannot stress this point enough. When you know what your current donors are thinking and why they support you, you know what conversations to have with prospects. You also avoid being pushy because you know who to speak to and how to talk.
* Number of current donors
* Number of new donors
* Number of requests
* Track conversion rate (the number of prospects asked divided by number who became donors)
* Keep track of the words, phrases, comments, photos, visuals that are inspiring candidates to donate
Objective 4: Increase Funds
I have found the most successful and quickest way to raise more funds is to two two things: ask my current donors to increase their donations and keep as many of them as donors every year. Therefore, the following two actions should be your focus.
1. Building long-term relationships with your donors, and this doesn’t mean only your major donors. I make it a point to reach out to every donor because you never know who can give what.
2. Collecting feedback about what donors like, dislike, or what they would like to see more.
Once again, I cannot stress this point enough. Feedback is one of the most important tasks in fundraising. If you are not learning what people think, you run the risk of making false assumptions. Therefore, set time each year to ask donors what they think.
Also, ask major donors what inspired them to donate at a higher than average level. And, if someone has recently increased their giving, ask them why. You may think this is intrusive, but I have found that donors enjoy sharing their stories as much as you enjoy sharing yours.
* Average donation
* Feedback from all donors
* Names of donors who have indicated they’d like to support more (they usually make hints)
* Number of requests to increase donations
* Track conversion rate (saying yes to an increased gift)
* Feedback from donors who increased their donation
* Retention rate (how often donors renew their gift)
The most overlooked metric in fundraising is retention. Most fundraisers look at conversion, the percentage of people who say yes to their requests.
However, if you want a sustainable, long-term Catholic organization, the most successful way of achieving this is to have your current donors donate each year. Therefore, what you want above everything else when growing is to have a high retention rate.
If you currently have a low retention rate, meaning not many donors renew their support each year, I recommend you research why this is happening and find ways to increase this. You may find the reason to be as simple as donors are just not being asked to renew.
Case Study — I raised 5-figure donations at an event that cost me almost nothing
I hosted an event for an organization, inviting a mix of people: prospects, new donors, current donors and people on my dream list. Each person was hand selected from the information I tracked in my fundraising plan.
The focus of the event was simple: to share with the guests what we had accomplished, what we were doing currently, and what our plans were to move forward. Above all of this, our focus was to build relationships by personally speaking with each guest. There were no add-ons, auctions, music, gift request or expensive food. As a result, we drastically reduced the cost and preparation time for the event.
In preparation for the event, my team and I spent the majority of our time learning who each guest was and what questions we could ask them. During the event, we were able to build deeper relationships. We asked the prepared questions and learned what had inspired them to attend the event and how they would like to continue their relationship with us.
By working this way, we hosted an exciting and engaging event. Everyone felt welcomed, listened to, and left that evening more connected with us. As a result, a few weeks later when we followed up with each guest, we received several 5-figure donations and planted a seed for a future 6-figure donation. All of this happened as a result of us having a fundraising plan.
Most fundraising events or plans focus their attention on raising funds and getting people to sign commitment forms. I’ve spoken to over 1,000 Catholic donors, and again and again, they all want to give, yet they don’t want to be pushed into corners.
When you put in place this fundraising plan which focuses on building relationships, collecting feedback, and nurturing long-term support, you are preparing yourself for success. Also, when times get difficult and trust me, they will, you will know how to stay focused.
Therefore, I recommend taking a piece of paper and write out your fundraising plan today. It doesn’t have to be longer that one side. The shorter the better. Then, I recommend you share your plan with your colleagues and leadership team, asking them to consider what it says and agree on it. By being all on the same page, you are setting yourself up for even greater success.