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Common Mistakes
by Kimberly Reynolds
"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
      - Anonymous
Fundraising is both an art and a science.  If your fundraising revenues are static
or declining, your organization is probably making one or more of these common
Lack of planning
Things haven't been thought through.  Deadlines produce a crisis response. 
Nobody knows exactly what to do.  Everything is a haphazard fire drill.  Does any
of this sound familiar?
Usually only a few people have the prior knowledge needed from the year before,
so there's a bottleneck on information.  That often produces the "suffering martyr
syndrome" where the person in charge, who should have had everything planned
well in advance, instead spends their time moaning about how overworked they
are.  Admit it, you know that person!
All of this can be avoided if the right preparations are made ahead of time.  See
the Section on Preparation for a host of valuable ideas.
Repeating the same fundraiser
The same old fundraiser is done over and over again because that's what you've
always done.  The roles and responsibilities are well known, so it's a safe
comfortable solution.  Unfortunately, your supporters are probably sick and tired
of it.  Your volunteers probably feel the same way.
The typical result is flat to declining total revenue, not to mention all the missed
opportunities.  Have you ever looked at your old records to see what the average
customer sale and average profit per sale were several years ago?  It's a good
bet that there's been little change.
The root causes of this fundraising inertia are lack of knowledge, fear of change,
unwillingness to upset the status quo, etc.  If you will take the time to expand
your knowledge base, then you will increase your success.
Remember that your goal should be to maximize your revenue and increase your
net every year, not to maintain a breakeven position.  After all, the items and
services your funds raised purchase have definitely risen in price over the years! 
Even if it's just inflation, the things your funds will eventually buy get more
expensive each year, so your net proceeds need to grow as well.  Newer
fundraising activities have come along that can increase your net results per
customer by 25% or more.
Don't let your fundraising efforts achieve less than they could because they lack
better direction.  See the Section on Organization for more insights.
Not enough help
Overworking your core volunteer group is a recipe for disaster.  Good people
who are willing to help your cause at no cost are hard to find.  Why chew them up
and spit them out?
Increase your volunteer base by defining all the roles and responsibilities.  You
should have written descriptions of what's expected from each support role. 
Make sure that it includes an accurate estimate of the time that position requires. 
Break those volunteer time blocks into two, four, or eight-hour chunks.  By
defining how much time a support position requires, you increase the likelihood
of a match with potential volunteers.  Allow job sharing; that is, allow two people
to sign up for one function and coordinate their own efforts. 
Another way to avoid burning out your volunteers is to recruit for all positions at
the beginning of the year.  This requires having your master project plan for the
year mapped out ahead of time.  Offer signup sheets for this year's positions at
your first group meeting.  That's when people are the most receptive to the idea
of pitching in, particularly if it's for a clearly defined amount of time.
Circulate flyers at every meeting for the remaining open positions.  If necessary,
include a call for additional help in your newsletter.
The Section titled The Basics is an excellent source of ideas.
Low quality merchandise
Sales are declining.  Customers are saying no thanks all too often.  Multiple unit
sales are a rarity.  Complaints are commonplace.
If these are happening to your organization, a wrong decision has been made
somewhere along the line.  Perhaps a higher profit percentage on every item
sold sounded like a good idea.  The result isn't higher net profits; it's lower sales. 
Those lower sales are coupled with disappointed clients.  Your group's reputation
is suffering.
Get rid of the junky stuff.  Ask yourself if you or someone you know would pay
those prices for similar quality goods at retail.  If the answer is no, look for a new
supplier before your support base erodes further.  The idea is to buy at wholesale
and sell at close to retail, not at twice retail. 
For decision criteria, see the Section on Selecting the Right Fundraiser
For supplier information, consult the Sections titled Supplier Profiles and
Supplier Cross-Reference.
Inadequate sales preparation
Remember the very first fundraiser you participated in?  Did you know everything
you needed to know as a participant?  Chances are that you didn't and that you
did the best you could without much direction.
A common mistake is to have no written instructions or inadequate instructions
given to your sales team.  Don't expect people to know all the selling "to-do's"
without adequate direction.  Many volunteers could be new recruits or have
served a different function for a past fundraiser.
The results of inadequate sales preparation are costly.  You'll end up with missed
opportunities, order confusion, lost payments, mistakes on order sheets, and
many others that all cost either time or money to fix. 
Be sure to take the time to do it right and you'll save in the long run.  Read the
Section on Preparation for more tips.
Poor support materials
Having poor support materials is another problem.  Usually these are obtained
from a supplier and shown to each prospective supporter.  The quality of that
presentation material is a reflection of your organization.  Don't settle for
brochures that make your group look bad.
If necessary, create additional sales materials in-house and supplement what
your sellers have available to them.  For example, if your group is selling
discount shopping cards for $10 each and the accompanying brochure doesn't
really get the message across, create a flyer with large print emphasizing the
savings generated. 
Here's a sample flyer for a BUDS discount card:
Be our BUD for only $10 and save up to $600!
Check out these great deals:
Saving with our BUD's Card is the way to go!
Having a flyer that the prospective supporter can read gets the message across
much quicker than your sales team can say it.  That way, the entire message
comes through visually and your sales rate jumps.
For a more in-depth review, see the Section on Sales Techniques.
No sales script
Not having a written sales presentation is another big mistake.  In many
fundraisers, a child is one of the primary sales channels.  Why would you expect
a youngster to be a natural salesperson?  Having been in sales for more than a
dozen years myself, I can tell you with confidence that advance preparation is a
mandatory requirement for success.
Write out one or two sales scripts that focus on your organization's specific need
and properly present offering.  Distribute those scripts to your team along with
written instructions on practicing within the family, how to build a prospect list,
etc.  If you think your group has this area mastered, select any seller at random
and have them give you their sales pitch.  I can guarantee that you'll be
A boy of about 14 appeared on my doorstep one evening.  Shoulders hunched
over, he mumbled his pitch to his shoes, which could barely be seen beneath his
drooping pants.  Less than a week later, another boy came to my door for the
same reason.  He looked me in the eye, gave me two sentences about his
purpose, and asked for my help. 
To which one did I contribute?  Okay, both of them, but not everyone is a softie
like me, but I did contribute more the the second visitor.  Work on sales pitch delivery!    
I've included a couple of sample sales scripts in this book along with detailed
information on sales preparation.  Read the Section on Sales Scripts for
complete coverage of this topic.
Weak internal communication
This manifests itself in many ways and severely hampers your fundraising efforts. 
Not giving clear direction to your volunteers and your sellers equals a lack-luster
Here are some examples:
There are no individual or sub-group goals given at the start of your drive.  The
group's specific goal isn't communicated clearly to the sellers.  Your message
isn't getting across to buyers.  No feedback is given to your participants or to
your supporters about the results.  Nobody knows how well the fundraiser did or
whether it was worth the effort.
These kind of communication problems create a strong drag on profits.  Revisit
how your group passes along information.  Design a system with multiple paths
of communication.  Eliminate bottlenecks in the flow of information.  Leverage
your website as a great source of specific data on everything your group is doing.
All of these topics and more are covered in the Section on Communication
Lack of publicity
Advertising works.  That's why you see so much of it.  Put it to work for your
organization by getting the word out in every possible fashion.  Use flyers,
posters, signs, media contacts, etc.  When was the last time your group sent out
a press release?
Publicity increases community awareness of your non-profit organization and
pays untold dividends.  It will motivate additional participation, increase your
volunteer pool, provide feedback, and give a method for communicating results.
See the Section on Publicity for more detailed information.
Continuous fundraising
Another common mistake is doing too many fundraisers.  The result is burnout of
your volunteers, your participants, and their customers.  You know your group is
in trouble if you belong to the "Fundraiser of the Month" club.
Limit your group to two or three main fundraisers each year.  Take the time to
design the right approach that will maximize the results of each fundraiser.  A
well conducted fundraiser can double the results of one that is poorly planned
and executed.
Other warning signs of doing too many fundraisers include low sales volume or a
declining net per customer transaction.  Why do fundraisers at all if you end up
generating less than $5 or $10 net profit per salesperson?
This book is full of suggestions on how to maximize your revenue for each
fundraiser.  One is to have a supplemental offering on top of each major effort. 
There are literally dozens of other ideas too numerous to list here. 
If you absolutely feel that your group has to raise money year round, move it to
your website.  Create a silent fundraiser there via a store, set up a click-through
sales commission program, provide a gift certificate/scrip program there, etc. 
See the Section labeled Website Benefits for additional information.
Take advantage of the rest of this book and avoid the burnout problem.  Read a
concise package of suggestions in the Section entitled 101 Tips & Techniques.
Bad timing
Problems that fall into the category of bad timing include conflicts with holidays,
poor weather, competition doing same thing, lack of interest due to another
event, overlapping school exam time, etc.
Avoid planning anything that spans major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas,
New Years, Easter, July 4th, or Labor Day.  Those are wasted time slots within
your calendar due to the lack of availability of participants and supporters. 
Poor weather means not doing a candy fundraiser for a youth sports group in
August when the candy is likely to melt.  For the same reason, don't offer special
handling merchandise like cookie dough, cheesecake, or pizza kits at those
times either unless you plan everything very carefully. 
Stay alert to what other fundraisers are going on in your community.  Having a
pumpkin patch sale on the school lawn two weeks before Halloween isn't a good
idea if there are three other ones within a mile.  Offer something different and
stay in touch with the leaders of other groups.
Scheduling an event-style fundraiser is a bad idea when it conflicts with another
major community event that will draw away most of its customers.  Check the
schedules for sporting events and community functions.  Don't be like the group
that promoted a Saturday car wash at a site only to find that all nearby traffic
was blocked off that morning for an annual running event!
If your group relies on student sellers, don't forget to check when midterms and
finals are.  Their parents won't appreciate extra time demands when academics
are the highest priority.
The message is that your success depends on being aware of the community
around you.  Find more detail in the Sections on Preparation and The Basics.
No rewards
Sometimes this is appropriate; other times it is not.  It depends on what the
seller's motivation is and what's yours (the group's leaders) is in making that
If you're not offering rewards because it's a band fundraiser and all the money is
going to pay for new uniforms, that's OK because the goal is the reward.  There
is no need for performance rewards.
However, if you're not offering rewards because they come out of the group's net
profits, rethink your approach.  Your net profits will suffer because your sellers
don't see anything that incents an extra effort.  Ultimately, you end up with less
profit because your sales are lower.  Don't make the mistake of offering a reward
to everyone just for participating.  Always make it attainment based.
A nationally known health organization sponsored a "jump rope-a-thon" at an
elementary school.  Among the materials sent home with each child was the
prize or incentive sheet showing what each child could win with certain levels of
monetary sponsorship.  The low-end prize was a bookmark ribbon thanking each
child for their support. 
The level of sponsorship required for this prize was $0 to $10.  Where's the
reward for the child who got $10 versus the child who did nothing?  Sure, they're
just kids, but what message are we sending to our children if we reward zero
Other sections of Fundraising Success detail ideas such as seeking donations
from local merchants for seller rewards like a two-for-one pizza offer or a
discount coupon from a sporting goods store.  Get creative and maximize your
For more ideas, read the Section titled Merchant Plan.
Poor rewards
Poor rewards often have the same effect as no rewards at all.  Junk is junk, so
why bother? 
Relying on supplier freebies isn't always a good idea.  As mentioned above, go to
your local merchants for a cooperative program that will drive customers to their
stores while encouraging the merchants to supply motivational rewards to your
Invest the time in designing the right reward program.  The increase in sales will
more than pay for a slight additional cost.
For more information, look in the Section on Rewards & Incentives.
Letting problems fester
Remember that when you're conducting a fundraiser, you're a small business
owner whose livelihood depends on maintaining a good reputation.  The old
"word of mouth" rule is that each person who has a good experience with your
group will tell one other person, but the person who has a bad experience will tell
five other people.
Claiming that you're overworked is no excuse for not being responsive.  Don't put
any customer satisfaction issue in the "get around to it" pile.  You'll be harming
your organization in more ways than you realize.
Deal with all problems immediately, even if it means dropping what you're doing
right then.  Follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them
do unto you.  Consult the Section on Organization for other tips.
Picking the wrong fundraiser
Sometimes a fundraiser is just wrong for a group.  It might be because that
particular one works best for a larger sized group.  It could be that it requires a
longer time period than is available. 
Others might not fit because it was picked for its higher percentage payout rather
than the quality of the offering.  The poor value of the merchandise ends up
lowering sales instead of generating profits.
A fundraiser might have pricing that is wrong for community.  Higher priced
merchandise or gourmet food items aren't a good fit in some areas. 
Put "best practices" in place within your organization.  Design a decision matrix
that weighs the various factors to help you make the right choice.  Be sure to
take the time to review the other sections of this book, particularly the Sections
on Selecting The Right Fundraiser and The Best Sellers.
Allowing these mistakes to continue within your organization is costing you extra
time, lost revenue, lower profits, and it's eroding your support base.  Root them
out now.  Act like a business owner and put a detailed plan into place to correct
these deficiencies. 

Fundraising Success! - Common Mistakes
Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved

About The Author: Kimberly Reynolds is the author of Fundraising Success, a best selling ebook on fundraising. You can read more of her fundraising ideas for fundraisers on her website, FundraiserHelp.com.

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