In smaller nonprofits, the “development person” may be the proverbial one-armed paper-hanger—responsible for many tasks, some only peripherally related to fundraising. Sometimes the regular rhythm of fundraising—appeals, membership renewals, major events—may leave little time for truly strategic activities that deepen and grow donor relationships. Even with this dilemma, there are ways that small nonprofits can incrementally advance their development efforts. Small investments of time over the long run will mean that your constituencies are primed when a campaign or other special initiative arises. Here are some strategies for making the most of your limited time:

1) Have a strategy. Stick to it.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When Board members’ well-meaning ideas pull you off task or when a staff member resigns and there is a backlog of work, the trajectory of your development efforts can start wiggling all over the place. Setting a strategy of manageable but meaningful activities (and getting buy-in from senior leadership and Board members) is the single most important thing a small organization can do to ensure that it achieves its development goals by year’s end.

2) Carve out time for major gifts.
In just three hours per week, the development director and, ideally, the CEO, can advance major gifts. Schedule—and stick to it!—one hour a week for making outreach calls and sending cultivation correspondence, with the goal of setting one meeting per week (the second hour). The third hour is for follow-up; it’s imperative that you close the loop and not let too much time go by after an encounter with a major prospect.

3) Form a Thank-you Squad.
Board members who might shy away from prospect cultivation and solicitation can be very effective at stewardship. Enlist a committee of volunteers to assist with making stewardship calls or sending personal thank-you notes to your donors, so that they know how much their support means to your organization. This is a great way to ensure donor retention.

4) Make your events count.
Events are a great opportunity to share a bigger vision with a large audience. But they are also an important opportunity to advance relationships and accelerate giving through one-on-one conversations. Make sure that each of your top prospects is assigned to a Board member whose job it will be to engage him or her. After the event, get your ambassadors to download the information gathered about these prospects and use it to inform future fundraising strategies.

5) Make information a priority.
There’s nothing worse than formatting that mailing list—again, at the eleventh hour. Investing time now in data clean-up will save time later. You can commit to chipping away at 10 records a day, or set aside a few days for a good scrub. Keeping prospect notes organized is also important as contacts are made; knowing the history can save time and effort.

Keep your sights on the bigger picture and you’ll find you’ve moved the dial toward a more sustainable fundraising program.

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