Day-to-Day Activities of a Fundraiser
Fundraisers or development professionals (no matter what their specialty may be) engage in a range of activities beyond needling a donor for money. These activities are as follows:
Analysis, planning, and goal-setting
At least on a yearly basis, if not more frequently, fundraisers assess progress with donors, tally up the gifts that have come in so far, and recalibrate revenue projections. Such analysis--which includes systematically tracking interactions with donors, coming up with calculations for determining the likelihood of a gift coming in and when, and identifying new prospects and ways to engage them--is critical for setting fundraising goals and prioritizing activities throughout the year. For major gift officers and grant writers, the process may be informal, since no one can read the mind of a wealthy individual or a program officer. Such fundraising professionals may simply develop a calendar of activities for the next year, a rough estimate of revenue based on what came in the previous year, and an educated guess on what new money can be brought in. Major gift officers will also prioritize their donors, identifying those that deserve more special attention and more frequent visits.
The analysis is more rigorous for membership programs that secure donations by sending print or electronic appeals to several thousand donors at different times during the year. Each mailing or Internet appeal provides a range of quantifiable information about a large number of donors, including the percentage of people who respond to any given appeal, the average size of donation and where donors are located. By looking over the performance of past appeals, membership specialists can come up with formulas for determining the average gift size from members, the cost and revenue from renewing membership gifts and the cost and revenue generated from acquiring new members. Membership specialists will also spend a great deal of their time planning the production schedule for appeals, which may go out to thousands of donors at different times of the year. The bigger the organization, the larger a project this is, and the more outside help you need, including designers, printers and mailing specialists.
Information about past trends and future projections is critical to developing the organization's operating budget; after all, you generally don't want to spend more than you think you will accumulate in revenue. Most fundraising/development teams therefore develop a written annual fundraising plan with financial goals, which is then presented to and approved by the board of directors. Boards and executive directors may request more frequent analyses, perhaps on a bi-monthly or quarterly basis, so they can keep track of contributions and revenue over the course of the year.
Fundraisers devote some part of their time (although most admit not enough of it) to research on current donors and prospects, which may include scanning trade publications such as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Google searches of individuals, review of 990 tax forms, and looking over past interactions documented in paper files or in a donor relations database (described in more detail below). Any little piece of information could be useful when meeting with a donor or deciding when to ask for a gift, including a marriage or divorce, a death in the family, a recent retirement, the graduation of a child from college, the most recent grants distributed by a family foundation, a stock split or a financial disaster. Most fundraising/development teams try to keep track of this kind of information on all of their major donors, board members and institutional donors (including board members and program officers of foundations, as well as upper management at corporations who support the organization). Grant writers will conduct more in-depth searches on foundations to keep track of upcoming deadlines, changes in giving priorities and submission processes, as well as changes in leadership. Foundation web sites are important sources of information, but there are also two major databases devoted to foundations--Foundationsearch (www.foundationsearch.com) and the Foundation Center's foundation directory.
Meeting with donors
For major gift officers and planned giving specialists, getting to know donors is the heart of the job. The Internet has certainly changed the way fundraisers interact with donors, but face-to-face meeting are the primary and preferred form of connection. So fundraisers are often out of the office at lunches and dinners, lectures and awards ceremonies; many also attend family events, including funerals and weddings, depending on the relationship with the donor. Fundraisers also spend a lot of time arranging meetings--tracking down donors to pin down a time and place, as well as setting up events where donors can get to know one another. In addition, fundraisers will set up meetings for donors to meet program specialists; in fact, many donors would rather talk to those on the front lines implementing the mission of the organization rather than the fundraisers. However, fundraisers try to participate in all meetings with donors, both to keep the meeting focused and to gather as much intelligence as possible on the interests and quirks of their donors. It's important to remember that the primary purpose of these meetings is to help the donor to connect with the nonprofit and its mission rather than ask for money. The time for the big ask will come some time in the year, but a fundraiser may visit with the donor two or three times before asking for a donation, depending on the size of the donor's wallet.
Depending on the size of the nonprofit and the scope of its work, fundraisers may be on the road to see donors a significant amount of time. And most fundraisers have a budget for fundraising visits, which others in the organization can look on with suspicion; it's sometimes hard to understand how a three-hour lunch is going to help the bottom line. Grant writers and membership coordinators will also have contact with their particular set of donors, but usually on a more limited scale, since proposals and appeals are the primary vehicle for communication.
Writing appeals and proposals
Most donors will not give without some kind of written request in hand. Foundations generally require the submission of a proposal describing the work that the requesting organization would like to have funded, and many major donors now ask for the same. As described above, membership programs are based on a series of appeals (both paper and electronic) sent to donors throughout the year requesting modest donations. So fundraisers, no matter what their specialty, spend a great deal of their time writing. A proposal can be anything from a two-page letter to a 25-page treatise. Appeal letters tend to be between two and four pages in length. There are formats, formulas and protocols for these materials, but there is also a great deal of personalization, depending on the interests of the donor in question. Grant writers in particular are glued to their computers, often working on several proposals in a given week.
Keeping up with program activities
Fundraisers can't do their job working in isolation from the rest of the organization; they need to be able to describe and write about ongoing activities, changes in direction or strategy, as well as successes. So fundraisers are often chasing down program specialists with questions about their work, sitting in on strategy meetings, as well as reading newly released reports (or at least the executive summary) and other information materials produced by the nonprofit for which they work. Fundraisers can also be important participants in program planning meetings, providing information on what they hear from donors about the organization's activities and what current and prospective donors (especially foundations) are funding. Since foundations require detailed descriptions of program activities and often ask some of the more difficult questions about the importance and impact of those activities, grant writers tend to spend more time and energy understanding program than other fundraisers. They can often be the most knowledgeable in the organization about program goals, activists, challenges and achievements, especially since most staff are focused on their small piece of the larger organizational pie.
Personalized letters, calls and visits from the executive director, appreciation events, distribution of t-shirts and other gifts--all sorts of activity revolves around thanking donors for their gifts. Thank you's or acknowledgements are considered to be as important as the gift itself, and fundraisers are always trying to find ways to thank donors. Development associates and coordinators, the administrative staff for fundraising teams, are often charged with managing the thank-you process, including letters of acknowledgement to each and every donor. These letters are more than a formality; they are a requirement by the Internal Revenue Service for donors that wish to deduct gifts from their taxes. Donors must prove that (1) they have given a gift before the end of the tax year, and (2) that they have not received any goods or services for that gift.
Managing systems and processes
Busy fundraising/development teams work with hundreds of major donors, dozens of foundations and thousands of members. They may be sending dozens of mailings and conducting scores of donor visits each year. So systems and processes must be put in place to ensure that proposal deadlines are met, that donors receive prompt replies to information requests, that appeals are sent to the correct addresses and that fundraisers have the information to frame conversation with donors. Most development offices struggle with maintaining some kind of information tracking system, the cornerstone of which is a donor relations database designed to store and analyze information about current donors and prospects. Several software companies have designed such databases, but most need to be customized, since every fundraising team functions a little bit differently. For example, most databases are not designed to help manage all of the cultivation steps involved in acquiring planned gifts, especially for a sophisticated team at a larger organization. Most offices maintain extensive paper file systems as well. Development associates and coordinators are the masters of the database and spend much of their day on data entry. Yet most fundraisers, no matter what their role, spend some time compiling information for the database or passing along information to those in charge of the database. Larger development offices will employ a database manager charged with ensuring quality control of data entry, training staff and pulling reports, profiles and mailings lists as needed. Team managers will spend significant amounts of time assessing systems and processes, including data entry, sending acknowledgements, maintaining deadline calendars and general quality control to ensure that donor names aren't misspelled and that proposals aren't riddled with typos.
Fundraisers also generate all sorts of reports, letters, newsletters and e-mails to keep donors abreast of the latest accomplishments and challenges of their organization. Many of these updates are at the demand of the donor; foundations require at least one written report over a 12-month period detailing how their grant funds were used and the impact of their support. So grant writers often lead the charge in crafting such reports on programs and activities that the whole fundraising team may send to donors. Fundraisers also keep track of the publications and other informational materials that the program staff may generate and send these along to donors. Answering requests for information is also an important activity, and most development teams take any phone call or e-mail from a donor seriously, no matter how silly or frivolous the question or request may be. Membership staff are often on the front line, the first responders to requests from a toll-free hotline or designated e-mail address. This often means that they are on the receiving end of a rant from someone who doesn't really understand what the organization does or the ramblings of a lonely widow in the middle of the country.