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Guerilla Fund-Raising

January 2009
By: Ron Haas
What guerilla forces lack in resources, they make up for in tactics. The same concept can be applied to your fund-raising efforts. Your local secular university is probably a fund-raising juggernaut led by a vice president for advancement and a full team of professionals, including an annual fund director, prospect research staff, phone-a-thon coordinator, marketing and communications manager, alumni relations director, grant writer, major gifts officers, and planned giving experts. But it's not just personnel; large fund-raising machines can hire consultants, purchase expensive software, conduct pre-campaign studies, develop an online giving capacity, launch a media campaign, create Hollywood quality DVDs, and print extravagant four-color brochures. How can your one- or two-person shop compete with an army of fundraisers?

The answer is —nimble, quick strategies focused on the right targets. In one sense, you are not directly competing with your local university or hospital. They work in a philanthropy world; your donor profile is stewardship-minded. Your donors might have some civic inclinations, but for the most part, they are focused on making an eternal difference with their resources. You really are not raising money from 'the community.' Instead, your focus should be on a circle of committed donors who know you and love your cause.

Expect Different Results

Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Sometimes nonprofits get stuck in a fund-raising event rut that requires a major investment of money and volunteer hours. Recently, a ministry hosted a dinner/auction that attracted more than 600 people. That part of their story is exciting. Unfortunately, after expenses the event netted only $11,000—that's less that $20 per person. To add insult to injury, if you calculated all of the volunteer hours required to solicit auction items, advertise, stuff invitations, decorate, set-up, and tear-down, you might be shocked to realize that the contribution of volunteer time amounted to less than minimum wage.

This is not to say that events aren't important. They can be an effective part of your fund-raising plan. It's all about using your resources wisely. You have a limited amount of fund-raising dollars to invest and volunteer hours to burn. Take a hard look at all your fund-raising activities, fix or cut the ones that aren't working, and shift to strategies that do.

What is the best fund-raising strategy to implement? Direct mail has a 2 to 5 percent response rate. Telemarketing usually yields around 30 percent. Events can generate 50 to 60 percent in donor participation. The more personal your fund-raising approach, the more effective it becomes. If you schedule a meeting with a donor and ask him or her for a gift, 75 to 80 percent of the time (s)he will respond positively. The most effective strategy is personal solicitation of major donors.

To Do's & To Don'ts

Howard Hendricks from Dallas Theological Seminary once said, "There are many things I could do, but I have to narrow it down to the one thing I must do. The secret of concentration is elimination." On your task list, you have plenty of To Do's. requires you to make strategic choices about how to invest your time and resources. The process of elimination just doesn't apply to events that aren't producing results. As an executive director or director of development, your To Don't list needs to grow to free up time you can invest outside the office with major donors. What tasks can you delegate to others so you can focus on personal solicitation?

Think of it this way. Eighty percent of your funding will come from 20 percent of your donors. So that means you should invest 80 percent of your fund-raising time on the top 20 percent of your donor base. Sure, it's great to have 600 people at an event. It can raise public awareness, establish a sense of community, and give people warm fuzzies about your organization. However, in reality you can raise $11,000 in one major donor call. You may be wired for events, so when you read about 600 people at an event that only raised $11,000, you immediately shift into fix-it mode. No doubt, there are things that could be done differently to turn that event around. Nevertheless, let me say again, you can raise $11,000 in one major donor visit.

Simply put, every fund-raising activity not directly related to personal solicitation, will not accomplish your goal and is not the highest and best use of your time.

Do More With Less

Here's a little-known fund-raising tip. Fancy four-color brochures don't raise money. In fact, professionally done DVDs don't raise money. Those tools are great, if you can afford them. But you can do more with less. is not about big, swanky events or a huge marketing budget. It's a simple one-on-one conversation with a friend. It's sitting across the kitchen table and sharing stories of lives that have been changed because of your ministry outreach. It's genuine, personal, and worth every minute you invest doing it.

So, are you ready to jump off the fund-raising event treadmill and do some real fund-raising? Great. Get your board together and 'namestorm' a list of your top donor prospects. Start with 25 individuals to make it manageable, and expand the list to 100. You have to go see them. Many major donors are too busy to come to your events, so you have to take your message to them. Commit time in your calendar to personally visit these donors. Share your story, ask them for a gift, and listen for their response.

Get your board involved. Ask them to identify prospective donors from their circles of business, church, and personal friends. Encourage them to invite you and their friend for lunch to introduce your work. At its heart, is all about relationships and 'friend-raising.' Build your donor base one conversation at a time.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter that you don't have a big fund-raising staff. What you don't have in resources, compensate for with the right tactics. Invest your time in telling your story to your key circle of top donors. Armed with the right strategy, you can raise more money, which translates into more ministry.

Ron Haas is vice president of the Timothy Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be reached at

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