At Charity Dynamics, we like to have our cake and eat it too. But we also want a side of fresh fundraising ideas and inspiration while we’re eating, especially if we also get to talk about our FEELINGS.

That’s how we found ourselves at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Austin Chapter’s latest interactive luncheon where Austin nonprofit professionals could chat up five fundraising gurus between bites of enchiladas.

AFP had each guru stationed at a different table with a dedicated topic: the importance of having a professional mentor, the ABC’s of a Capital Campaign, how to develop and execute an Annual Fund strategy, the impact of working with fundraising volunteers and how to stay relevant as a Seasoned Fundraiser.

Our team spread out over all five tables and brought back a piece of the cake just for YOU. So, please, tuck a napkin in your shirt collar and devour our top 10 takeaways:

1. Crowd-sourcing isn’t just a fundraising method. Use it when you hit your own professional roadblocks. Grace Washington, the Chief Development Officer of Breakthrough Austin, reminded us that crowd-sourcing the knowledge of your team and nonprofit peers is a great solution when you feel overwhelmed or stuck with a particular fundraising task. Stop wracking your brain and find the smartest person you know or a peer that has addressed a similar problem before.

The different experiences at the table were really interesting. Most would set a phone call or coffee date. One man had purchased a plane ticket to visit a friend that ran a capital campaign just so they could discuss in person. Another fundraiser had been tagged in a public Facebook post with other peers when a friend had a fundraising question and it resulted in a super engaging session of solutions through social networking.

This helps continue to foster a strong nonprofit community with a culture of collaboration.”  – Nick Barbieri, Senior Interactive Consultant

2. Don’t just create a development plan, follow it. “Missy Strittmatter, the Chief Development Officer at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas offered us a wealth of info on this topic. She even brought handouts! Right away she made the point that a development plan is more than just a road map for how and where to raise funds. It should certainly serve that purpose, but it should also insulate you and your program from organizational strains that can leech resources, knock you off course or stretch capacity too thin. Develop your plan with as much buy-in as possible from your executive stakeholders. Agree on the priority initiatives you will pursue within the given time frame and stick to the agreement. This will keep you focused if/when you are pressured to take on additional initiatives at someone else’s request.” – Josh Vincent, Graphic Designer

3. Grooming new board members. “When looking for who to have on your Development Committee to help develop your Annual Fund plan, Missy (CDO, Ronald McDonald House) suggested asking your high-level donors or active supporters, along with current and former board members. By bringing in those high-level donors or active supporters, you can begin to cultivate them as future board members” – Catherine Bacon, Project Manager

4. Why us? Why now? “When is comes to capital campaigns, the number one lesson is to ensure yours is not a dime a dozen. Taking the time to discover your ‘why’ is what will set your organization apart from others asking in the same vein. Dig deep to find the one major thing that makes your org unique and shout it from the mountaintops! Angela Osborn, Director of Development and Marketing for the Austin Humane Society, reminds us our ‘why’ is our most powerful tool we can arm ourselves with when asking donors for their contribution to such a large endeavor. By investing in this soul searching upfront, we can truly identify with our donors and be transparent about why they should give to us and why now is the time.

Once the ‘why’ is defined, express urgency in a visual way to show your progress in your race to reaching your goal. Donors can assimilate with the goal being much more attainable if they can visually engage with how their dollars are contributing in crossing the finish line. Cultivate excitement around being within mere inches and the results will most likely exceed expectations. Donors are less likely to give if the goal seems simply out of reach. Give them the motivation to decide right now is the exact moment to choose to give.” – Amy Martin, Senior Graphic Designer

5. The importance of passion in your career. “When I saw the title “How to Stay Relevant in Fundraising” as a table discussion, I thought, ‘Is someone reading my journal? This is exactly what I need right now!’ Secret time: sometimes it’s hard being so darn creative day in and day out. (OK, maybe that’s not so much a secret, but it is a truth.)

When we kicked off the table discussion, everyone got a chance to introduce themselves, talk about their organization and biggest obstacle to staying relevant. I quickly realized how passionate each person was about their organization and what they are doing to help make a difference in the world today. I instantly had an ‘AHA!’ moment: being passionate about what you do keeps you relevant! When we lose our passion at our job, it sometimes makes us feel unable to be relevant. So how do we keep that passion alive? A lot of the ‘seasoned folk’ at the table said the same thing: build great relationships around you. When you surround yourself with people who are passionate about what they do, there is no doubt that it’ll inspire you. Don’t have anyone to tap into at the office? Ask someone in your life to be a mentor. Not sure who to turn to? AFP has a great mentor program to help you find someone to help you find that spark and bring back the passion to your work.”
Brenda Miele, Creative & UX Director

6. Don’t judge a millennial by his/her cover. Uncover potential. “One attendee voiced her concern about the know-it-all vibes and lack of passion she seems to witness when interviewing millennials. While these personality traits can certainly exist (in all generations), the table was quick to not group all millennials together. We landed on the idea that you really need to foster a growth mindset at your organization rather than judge and not give someone the chance to prove themselves.

This was a good reminder as someone that can be a bit OCD and want to handle many parts of a project. I thought back to my experience working at a nonprofit and how I was lucky enough to have a boss that allowed me to step out. ‘You want to throw your own event? Sure. Write up a plan, secure partners and let’s talk. You want to help define our voice? Let’s see writing samples for email, social and direct mail.’

I have to ask myself how I plan to keep an open mind and provide opportunity for others. The best response is one of encouragement and even suggested next steps. It’s exciting to be able to help someone grow professionally.” – Nick Barbieri, Senior Interactive Consultant

7. You must focus on getting new donors as well as cultivating larger donations from existing donors. It’s not an either/or scenario. Do both. “The better you get at cultivating your existing donors, the more your average donation amount will increase over time. But attrition is real, and steady acquisition is the first critical step on the path toward sustainability for your program. This is especially the case as generational changeover becomes a bigger and bigger issue for many organizations. Ensure that your development plan includes strategies for acquisition and cultivation.” – Josh Vincent, Graphic Designer

8. Know your audience. “It may seem old at this point in the game, but the importance of knowing whom your people are and how to engage with them will never fall to the wayside. In our world of so much noise, highlighting what will get your donors excited to give to a capital campaign is key. Angela, Director of Development for the Austin Humane Society, shared an anecdote of a capital campaign in which the breaking ground ceremony was of board members planting the first seed for a sustainable farming organization. Not only was this unique to the organization itself, it also connected the dots for their donors to see how their dollars were going to make a tangible, impactful difference.

Discovering what makes your donors tick and how to pull at those strings is paramount for a successful capital campaign. Staying true to your audience not only ensures your content matters to them; it will inspire them to share their excitement with others. Create the avenue for engagement by giving donors the information they desire and fuel their passion for your organization which will spread like wildfire to their networks.” – Amy Martin, Senior Graphic Designer

9. We’re in the business of relationships. “Relationships were a big discussion topic at our table. From donors, to coworkers, to potential business, we need to make sure we respect all conversations and how we communicate with each other. One woman spoke to how she “treats her donors like real people” and remembers birthdays, kids’ names and other important dates in their lives. It helps enhance the relationship and gives a real and honest approach when she reaches out and asks how they are… and eventually always improves on how much they give back to the organization. They aren’t just a dollar to you. Treat them as such!” – Brenda Miele, Creative & UX Director

10. Realistic Optimism. “Setting fundraising goals can be a challenge but Missy, CDO of Ronald McDonald House, stressed that you want to make sure you are balancing optimism about growth with realism to prevent setting goals that are too far out of reach. She suggested thinking through exactly what would need to happen to reach that new goal to both check on its feasibility, but also to inform the strategy to reach it. If you want to increase your fundraising by 25% how much of that is coming from new donors versus increasing amounts from existing donors? By thinking through the details, you are on your way to developing your strategy to reach those goals!”
Catherine Bacon, Project Manager

A big thanks to AFP Greater Austin for getting us out of the office for some great conversation and knowledge sharing. Without our peers, it would just be a world of fundraising professionals with zero solutions and NO cake, laughing alone with salad at their desk.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) represents more than 30,000 members in over 230 chapters throughout the world, working to advance philanthropy through advocacy, research, education and certification programs. The association fosters development and growth of fundraising professionals and promotes high ethical standards in the fundraising profession. Learn more.