Incoming! Are you ready?

One of the key learnings I’ve had over the last few years from taking a more holistic approach to fundraising is you really need to be ready to respond when the opportunities come.

Fundraising as most of us are used to isn’t set up like that. We tend to have packed outbound programmes of activity, often geared to get a measured response. Our work plans are all mapped out – send out this appeal, write and send x applications/proposals, approach these major donors etc. So when something new comes in it often gets put to the ‘get around to it’ pile. I’ve learnt to my cost its all to easy for those unexpected leads to be secondary to all the work scheduled in.

What you need to have are people ready and with the capacity to respond – ideally whose job it is to react to these moments. As a sales or new business team would in a company when the marketing provides a lead. Fundraising is not usually built on a sales & marketing approach – it has tended to combine them. We often aren’t set up for inbound opportunities other than a supporter care team to process donations and deal with basic enquiries. No really. I spoke to someone only last week linked to a foundation who said how they couldn’t believe how long it took a charity to respond to an email offering a major donation. Sad thing is I could.

Ready to respond

And now being ready will be even more important if you want to leverage the ‘social capital’ of your supporter base. By that I mean enabling and encouraging them to spread your story. It creates a ripple effect that leads to inbound opportunities (which could be as simple as someone introducing a contact of theirs). By applying this approach – which I strongly advocate – there will be potentially more opportunities.

Who scans your inbound email every day? Do you have staff with the capacity to respond if an opportunity came in tomorrow? Do you know what your funding needs are so you can move quickly? How refreshing would it be to be on the phone immediately and arranging a meeting for the next day. It does work but it needs a conscious effort. I had a year of having a free role at SolarAid as “Chief Fundraiser”. I was freed up to spot opportunities and follow through when they came in involving other staff to help progress them. The following year my role changed with much less scope to pursue and scout opportunities. On reflection we didn’t close new opportunities that came our way as fast as we should have.

So are you ready?



5 thoughts on “Incoming! Are you ready?

  1. This, surely, is one of the measures of a great fundraiser. If you’re going to be the best at what you do, you must be able to distinguish between true opportunities and everything else. You’ll go a long way if you always take advantage of the opportunities without wasting time on non-starters.


    • That’s true Alex. Time is precious. My point is charities are less geared up to respond to unexpected leads. The other new aspect is in this increasingly connected world you just don’t know where something could lead and who people know. I recall meeting a former volunteer who led us to a major grant. Some of it comes with instinct and experience. Still you need to have resources (people) set aside to follow up and follow through (like a classic sales function in a business). I find some opportunities take a long time to come to fruition too – but it doesn’t take much time to chivy them along.


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