Breaking Out of a Fundraising Plateau

It happens to every development professional at some point in their career. Things are going well… you’re meeting with prospects, cultivating contacts, making asks. The days seem to be humming along, and then: nothing. No calls being returned. No pledges being made. No progress… nothing.

You’ve plateaued.

Sometimes, a fundraising plateau lasts for days, sometimes it lasts for weeks. Fear not! These occasional ruts happen to every fundraiser. Occasionally, they are just a result of bad luck, when you happen to strike out on asks an inordinate amount of times in a single week or month. Other times, they are the result of an unforeseeable event, or a bit of bad PR for your non-profit. Most often though, they are the result of some planning missteps on your part. Luckily, these missteps can usually be easily rectified. If you find yourself in a fundraising plateau, use these tips to help jump start your efforts:

For Immediate Action
If you’re in a rut, reaching your goals (and restoring your confidence) will require that you take immediate action to start seeing positive results. One great way to generate “yes’s” is by taking a break from prospecting to start soliciting from current and lapsed donors. They are far more likely to say yes, and the positive reinforcement will do wonders for your self-esteem. Taking a week off of cultivation / prospecting to focus on making asks to current donors may be just the jump start you need to get back in to the game.

Another great way to immediately see positive results is to take a break from your current solicitations / prospects to work on some low hanging fruit that others on your team have been cultivating. For instance, if you are a director of development that works closely with your board, take a week to set up meetings with contacts your board members have been cultivating. Ask the board member to go with you to see these warm contacts. As with current donors, these warm leads may be far more likely to want to get involved than your standard prospect list.

For Long Term Planning
Once you’ve reignited your efforts, be sure to put a plan in place to help you avoid fundraising plateaus in the future. The most important thing you can do to avoid plateaus is to make sure you have enough prospects in the pipeline at each different level to supply a steady stream of asks. By balancing out the number of new prospects, warm cultivations, and current asks you are working on, you can be sure to have a ready supply of asks teed up at any one time.

Similarly, keep your board, development committee, and volunteers constantly networking. They provide a great source of leads, but generally require constant handholding and motivation. Be sure to supply it to them.
Finally, if you’re not already integrating all of your fundraising campaigns into your individual ask program, now is the time to do so. For example: do you have a plan in place for meeting, cultivating, and doing an individual solicitation with your direct mail donors? How about your online donors? What about your event guests? Have a funnel in place for building longer-term relationships with these donors.

Don’t Wait — Do!

Every fundraiser gets into a rut once in a while. They key to getting back on you feet is to DO something about it. If you just stay the course, often, you’ll find it harder to break out of the rut. Be active, develop a plan for reigniting your efforts, then get out there and make it happen!
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Joe Garecht is the creator of The Fundraising Authority, a free source of fundraising advice and tutorials for non-profits of all sizes.

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2 Responses to Breaking Out of a Fundraising Plateau

  1. Monte Greenshields says:

    … for every mile of road there is two miles of ditch! Power of positive thinking and language! Donors are people.

  2. Another great post! Thanks for the inspiration to keep slogging through when we find ourselves on a plateau.

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