Evolution is defined as ‘the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form’. Definition.com provides the synonyms of growth, development, advancement, and progress. It is apparent that many of those terms are also synonyms for fundraising.
Whatever you may call your team of fundraisers or your program, what are you doing to help it evolve? Make a resolution to do more than open a new calendar and only say, “well, the 3rd weekend of this month is always our gala, and we do a direct mail campaign in this month and this month, so here is our development plan for this year.”
Do you take time to evaluate your efforts? Do you see if you are gaining ground in any way? Is the event/ activity getting more revenue, new donors, more likes for your Facebook page? Just as what we do has evolved in execution, so does how we evaluate the results.
Be cautious on evaluating activities/ events against anything other than your own results or a set of adopted standards. It is normal to want to compare yourself against other organizations with similar events or activities. Realize there are a myriad of factors that affect outcomes, the biggest being where the organization is in its own evolution. Not all groups discovered the wheel or fire at the same time, just like all groups have not engaged major donors in the same way or understand the value of events beyond revenue generation. Failure is also a part of evolution.
Evolution often gets a bump when one group learns about a skill or tool and shares it. Are you reaching out and collaborating? Or are you a specialist? Meaning, do you immediately dismiss an idea saying that our community or our donors or our cause is different so that will never work.
In order to grow and evolve, you need to be open to conventional ideas, with a sometimes-unconventional approach. Even though there are many vehicles for fundraising, there are only a few approaches. There is the retail approach, where you exchange goods for funds. Activities like bake sales and auctions. These activities can be fun, but are twice the work because you need to get items donated, then you need to get people to come buy it. Next there are events. If you do tickets to the events, the approach is still retail. Events can be unique if you have a vehicle for people to give based n their own perceived value. Events can also serve as an introduction to your organization, like a live action brochure.
Finally, there is just plain asking. To ask, you need to have a plan for engagement. Would you give money to someone who just asked? Would you give a $1000 to someone who just asked? There needs to be experience, engagement, and relationship transference.
An example of an idea that evolved, when I was with Enterprise we put on amazing tent sales with area credit unions to move vehicles when they were done in rental. We often worked to replicate the success of the tent sales at our full time lots. Some ideas were more successful then others, some were even bombs. However, we evaluated and learned and eventually developed “Pay Day Car Sales” where we took cars to the credit union office during their sponsor’s payday. This accomplished our goal of mirroring the excitement and success of the tent sales.
Evolution is key to growth. Successful growth requires solid knowledge and evaluation of where you have been. Evolution is best when paired with vision, the ability to think about or plan for the future with imagination and wisdom. Make a resolution to do a little evaluating, collaborating and tweaking this year to evolve your program.