Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” Imagine if you work for an organization that never takes the time to set goals in the first place. If so, you could be in the unenviable position where everything you do could be an obstacle to achieving your vision? In the profession of fundraising, an office that refuses to set monetary goals for the donors it plans to solicit is doomed to fall short of expectations. And falling short in fundraising means the beneficiaries of your services will suffer from a lack of resources or your organization will not be able to pursue its noble mission.
If you hope to establish a successful development office, you need to have a strong culture of goal setting. In doing so you will ensure that your organization is strategic and that your development office provides the necessary financial support to fund those strategies to the benefit of your mission. Here are some ways to create a goal-oriented culture within your organization.
- Set an Income Goal: Have you ever worked for an organization that decides what it is going to spend on programs before discussing available funding with the development department? Many times leadership will have ambitious dreams for the future of an organization. This is a good mentality to have but it may not be possible to achieve those ambitious goals overnight. Any strategy that includes significant growth in expenditures should be discussed with the leadership of the development department. Development will have the best understanding of potential growth in direct mail, major gifts or event income. There may be an opportunity to grow one of those areas significantly from year to year but it also may require additional investment in mail costs, venue costs or travel. Before agreeing to a final expense budget be sure to have a strategic discussion with the development office to ensure there are enough donors to support any increased spending.
- Set a Financial Goal for all Current Donors: One of the most obvious ways to plan for the coming year’s expenses is to review all current donors and decide how much you plan to ask them and if that amount will increase, decrease or remain the same. An example could be a donor who made a $100,000 gift in the previous year. The gift officer assigned to that donor may know that the gift was the result of a one-time windfall profit and that a similar gift in the coming year is highly unlikely. If that is the case, the organization will need to replace that income with increases from current donors or infusions of new gifts from new donors. Once you set goals for all your constituencies those goals should be much higher than your expense budget as you will likely have a 70-80% success rate for solicitations.
- Set a Financial Goal for all Prospective Donors: It is easier to set goals for current donors than for prospective donors. However, by comparing year-to-year increases from new donors your organization should be able to project potential income from this important group of donors. Review new donations from direct mail, event income and major donors to come up with an estimate related to new income. Even though you won’t know who the new donors will be at the beginning of the year, if you utilize similar strategies to engage with prospective donors you will be more prepared to project future income.
- Review and Update Goals Quarterly: Setting goals is not an exact science. There will be many donors who give more than you expect while others come up short of expectations. As you execute your fundraising strategies throughout the year, you should review donors’ results to see how they are faring versus what you projected. As you review the goals you set you should update goals based on intelligence you’re seeing through responses to solicitations and engagement with them. A donor’s goal may increase if you discover that their wealth has increased since your last encounter. At the same time, if a donor tells you that they experienced unexpected hard times you may decide to lower their goal. By continually reviewing the goals you set you can be more proactive in your approach to providing income in support of your organization’s mission.
- Get to Work! Once you’ve set financial goals for your constituencies you should begin the hard work of communicating with them, cultivating relationships, soliciting and stewarding their gifts. You’ll find that by setting specific goals for your donors will make your work more effective and help donors have a better idea of expectations each year. The more specific your solicitation the better and donors will appreciate the clarity you bring as their philanthropy achieves results for the missions they support.