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 Nonprofit Leadership Center trainer and fundraising consultant Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE, to turn 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 

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