3 Ways to Learn from Your Fundraising Mistakes

Team NLC Tips

Inspiring donors to invest in your mission is an art and a science. Our work as fundraisers requires us to cultivate relationships and demonstrate our impact while staying ahead of giving trends and providing an exceptional year-round experience. With all the responsibilities fundraisers have in a changing donor landscape, you’re bound to make a mistake or two along the way. But when you approach fundraising mistakes as learning adventures, you’ll be more likely to take risks and uncover new opportunities.

3 ways to learn from your fundraising mistakes

Here are three tips from NLC trainer and fundraising consultant Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE of Sara Leonard Group for turning your fundraising mistakes into new opportunities to increase long-term revenue and results.

How to Turn Your Fundraising Mistakes into Future Wins

1. See shortfalls as opportunities to optimize.

Rather than viewing fundraising mistakes as failures, think of them as adventures — powerful opportunities to learn something new that you can apply to future efforts. Take a realistic look at what you did in the planning and execution stages. Identify strategies that are accepted as the way you do things in your organization but might not actually be the right or best way to do them. By creating a culture where you have the freedom to fail from time-to-time but apply learnings to enhance your efforts moving forward, you’re sure to better engage donors and raise dollars.

2. Use research to set realistic goals.

In fundraising, we often set our goals high, which can lead to unrealistic expectations from CEOs and board members. The best way to chart a winning plan is to use research to set achievable objectives. Sometimes, the best research (and the only kind your budget may allow) is calling a colleague who has implemented a similar strategy to ask what their results were and what they learned. Other times, it’s conducting your own prospect research or hiring a research partner to help you unlock your organization’s potential. Be intentional about setting achievable fundraising goals, and use data and insights to establish them.

3. Look beyond the green.

There’s a common saying that every day isn’t good, but there is good in every day. The same goes for fundraising. Even if we fall short of our goals, we learn valuable lessons and often achieve wins in other ways. Be sure to evaluate your success beyond dollars raised. For example, look for achievements in areas such as reaching new donors, renewing lapsed donors or deepening engagement with current donors. While the final dollar amount is important, it’s not the only indicator of success.

Avoid Common Fundraising Mistakes with These Upcoming Classes

Ready to take your fundraising to the next level? Check out NLC’s upcoming classes to sharpen your fundraising skills.

  • Fundraising 101 (January 31 or July 17): This program is designed for those who have less than three years of fundraising experience but have a responsibility or share responsibility for fundraising at their organization.
  • Make Your Case for Support (March 3 & 10): A case for support is critical to distinguish your organization from other nonprofits. In this two-part program, you’ll leave with the skills and tools to draft your organization’s case for support and will receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts. Professionals at all levels can benefit from this program, including executive directors, development directors, program staff, board members and volunteer managers (anyone who’s responsible for securing resources for their organization).
  • Mastering the Ask (November 5 & 12): This series examines the most common obstacles to making asks and how you can overcome them, equipping you for successful solicitations through hand-on practice. This program is good for anyone who asks for support, including fundraising staff, CEOs, executive directors, board members and volunteers.

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