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Year-end fundraising is about having a SHORTER list (here's how to make one and use it to raise

This post is part of my year-fundraising series. This fall, you can follow along here to receive training and tools that will help you launch a year-end fundraising campaign by October 1. The lessons I'm offering are best for small nonprofits (five or fewer employees). Ready for an amazing and successful Giving Season? Rock 'n' roll.


I’m sorry.

I made the mistake of thinking I could keep working on my year-end fundraising series while on family vacation. I should have known better. I won’t make that mistake again.

We did enjoy an especially long and wonderful family vacation, so thank-you for giving me time off!

I hope you got some special R&R with the people you love over the last few weeks of summer.

We are still on track for your year-end fundraising campaign by October 1.

To help you along, here is a fresh version of the year-end fundraising checklist and timeline.

This lesson/post is the backbone of your year-end fundraising campaign.

I believe and follow this “iron law” of small nonprofit growth:

As our partners go, so goes our fundraising.

In the last lesson/post, I suggested putting supporters into three (familiar) groups: acquaintances, friends, and partners.

Briefly, here’s how I decide who goes in each group:

  • Strangers are not supporters, but some of them could be. They don’t know us and we don’t know them (yet). This group has about 7 billion members!

  • Acquaintances make some small connection with us, but that connection is rather impersonal and the value is quite small. Facebook friends or volunteers who come with a church or school group are examples of acquaintances.

  • Friends make the personal choice to give something of personal value. They come to fundraising events, give money here or there, or volunteer once in awhile. They know you and you know them.

  • Partners give almost as often as we ask and they often ask us how they can give more. They are regular donors and volunteers who are passionate, personal, and purposeful. They think of our mission as their own mission. They think of our organization as a fellowship of which they are proud members. They are eager to invite the people they know to support us. Partners are in it with us.

Why put our supporters in these groups? Simply this: Our small nonprofits have tight limits on energy, money, and time. We can’t afford to waste those precious resources, so we need to invest them where they will get the best results.

If you believe the 80/20 rule (and I do), partners (20 percent or fewer of our supporters) contribute or influence 80 percent of the energy, money, and time flowing into our small nonprofits. Partners give us the best return on our investment of energy, money, and time--not just now, but in the future as well.

That’s why I invest 80 percent of my small nonprofit’s energy, money, and time in partnerships. Partnerships almost always assure me of success; strangers, acquaintances, and even friends are a crapshoot.

This doesn’t mean I ignore strangers, acquaintances, and friends; it just means I limit my investment of energy, money, and time. In a future lesson, I’m going to show you how to make a real plan for making these groups part of your year-end fundraising campaign. The main thing to grasp now is that these groups do as they see partners doing. When partners give big, strangers, acquaintances, and friends are likely to give more. When partners don’t give, no reason exists to believe any other group will give at all. As partners go, so go the rest of our supporters.

We need to make partners the engine and focus of our year-end fundraising campaigns. No group of supporters will give us more “bang for our buck.”

I use a three-step process to work with partners on year-end fundraising:

Step One: I make a list of my partners--the people who are passionate, personal, and purposeful about my small nonprofit. If you’ve been following along, you did this in a previous lesson/post.

Step Two: Since partners are personal, they need and want a relationship with us. An email or form letter is no way to make the most of a partnership; we have to make it personal. This takes time (which is in short supply, especially around the end of the year). In Step Two, I ask how many personal partner relationships my small nonprofit can handle during the campaign.

Step Three: I make personal connections with each and every partner before the campaign to find out how much they are likely to give and when. This becomes the backbone of the campaign and tells me what I can expect to raise.

For a year-end fundraising campaign at a small nonprofit, this three-step process should be happening now through October.

Let’s go through each step in some detail. Along with the instructions below, I’m going to share some free tools I made to help you get through the process better and faster.


Step One: Make your list of partners.

If you’ve been following my year-end fundraising program, you have a list of partners in an Excel spreadsheet or on a legal pad. Maybe you have 25, 50, 100, or even 200 names.

If you haven’t made a list of partners yet, review this lesson and take some time to make your list.

Once you have this list, transfer the names to the Partner Power Ranking Tool. To access the tool, click on this link, then make a copy of the template and save it into your own Google Sheets. Complete instructions on how to do this are in the first tab labeled “Instructions.”

In the “Worksheet” tab, enter the names of your partners in Column B (“Your Partner”). I suggest using “Last Name, First Name” format in this column. The order does not matter at this point. Just put in as many partner names as you can (up to 100). Note: You should include organizational partners as well as people: Companies, foundations, government agencies, schools, etc. The idea here is to list the organizations and people who are the most enthusiastic and supportive of you.


Step Two: Figure out how many personal partner relationships your small nonprofit can handle.

Remember: Partners need and want personal. They give the most and they are willing to give even more when they feel like they have a real relationship with us. A year-end fundraising campaign’s success depends on the way we interact with our partners before and during the campaign.

Someone from your small nonprofit has to get together in person with each and every partner: Eye-to-eye, face-to-face, voice-to-voice. The success of a year-end fundraising campaign turns on this.

This is where you may push back.

You may say: “I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. I work for a small nonprofit, remember? How am I supposed to schedule meetings with a hundred partners before the end of October?”

Answer: Enlist your board and staff leaders to help. Prioritize your partner list so you have a manageable group to contact this fall.

You may push back again: “Are you kidding me? The people on my board and staff would rather go to their own funeral than have to ask someone for money!”

Answer: You don’t need board and staff leaders to ask for money; only feedback and suggestions. As long as you have one person (you?) at your small nonprofit who is willing to ask for money, everyone else can focus on forming and keeping good relationships. Believe me: This makes your asking ten times more effective.

The idea in Step Two is to figure out three things:

  1. How many partners can your small nonprofit personally engage for year-end fundraising?

  2. Which partners are most important to year-end fundraising success (if you can’t reach out to all of them on a personal level?

  3. Which board members and staff leaders at your small nonprofit are going to serve as “relationship managers” for your year-end campaign and which partners they will meet?

The number of partners you can personally engage in your year-end fundraising campaign depends on the number of “relationship managers” you have at your small nonprofit. A relationship manager is a board member or staff leader who enjoys getting to know people and having relationships.

You don’t need your relationship managers to ask for money (unless they want to do so). Relationship managers simply spend time getting to know your partners on a personal level. They have coffee once in awhile, make a phone call now and then, and write personal notes from time to time. Relationship managers give you two things that are crucial to your small nonprofit’s growth and sustainability: 1) Strong personal relationships with partners, and 2) Good information about what those partners are able, ready, and willing to do for your small nonprofit.

Your small nonprofit can only have as many partners as it has relationship managers to keep up with them.

So, the first step to deciding how many partners will be at the center of your year-end fundraising campaign is to figure out how many relationship managers your small nonprofit can put to work this fall.

To help you do that, I made this simple worksheet. Follow the instructions on the worksheet to determine three things:

  1. Which board and staff leaders will be your relationship managers this year-end.

  2. How many partners each relationship manager will handle for your year-end campaign.

  3. How many partners total your small nonprofit will make the focus of its year-end campaign.

Don’t forget to include yourself as a relationship manager!

Once you finish this worksheet, you’ll be ready to move to the next steps, which are:

  • Prioritize your partnerships

  • Assign a relationship manager to each partner

Now you’re ready for the Partner Power Ranking Tool. By now, I hope you added your partners’ names to the worksheet (in no particular order).

Even though the Partner Power Ranking Tool allows for up to 100 partners, your small nonprofit may only have the relationship managers and time to set up personal conversations with a fraction of that this fall. If you’re able to fill in all 100 rows, I encourage you to do so. However, it is important to be realistic about the number of partners you and your relationship managers can actually reach in person.

Let’s say that when you completed your worksheet, you found you have relationship managers to meet with only 36 partners in September and October. You can keep 100 partners in your Partner Power Ranking Tool, but you need to determine which 36 partners are most important to your year-end fundraising campaign. That is: If you only have time to set up meetings with 36 of your 100 partners, which ones will you meet?

Use the seven criteria in columns “C” through “I” to come up with a “power score” for each partner. Follow the instructions on the “Instructions” tab of the worksheet to do this. When you place your cursor over the heading in each column (Example: “Activity”), a note will appear that explains what the heading means.

Notice that financial capacity and contributions are not the only criterion for determining a partner’s “power” score. Sometimes a partner may not have much money to give, but she has connections, influence, and other resources that are equally valuable. Your top partners may not be your biggest donors; but they will be your best supporters.

Once you finish filling in the seven criteria for each partner, follow the instructions on the “Instructions” tab to sort the entire partnership list by “power” score. This will give you your small nonprofit’s “partner power ranking.”

This power ranking does two things for you:

  1. It shows you which partner you need to approach first, second, third, etc., about your year-end fundraising campaign. Partner #1 should be your very best supporter, the one organization or person you would never leave out of any plans. This is practical stuff when you’re trying to figure out who to call first next Monday. Now you know.

  2. It helps you put your partners into two tiers. If you have 100 partners on your list, but you only have relationship managers to spend one-on-one time with 36, you now know which 36 of the 100. The remaining 64 are partners your relationship managers will meet if they have time after they get through the first tier. You may also choose to do something special for these 64 partners if you don't have time to meet with them one-on-one.

I hope you see how this helps you focus and helps you make the best use of energy, money, and time.

Once you rank your partners using the Partner Power Ranking Tool, assign a relationship manager to each one in “Column N” (“Best relationship”). Now you know which board and staff members will be responsible for reaching out to which partners this fall.


Step Three: Make personal connections with each partner to find out what they are willing to contribute to the year-end fundraising campaign.

Now that you have your must-ask partners in order of priority along with their corresponding relationship managers, you’re ready to put your year-end fundraising campaign into action.

That doesn’t mean you’re ready to start asking for money.

It means you’re going to find out who among your partners is able, ready, and willing to give to your year-end fundraising campaign and how much. You’re going to prepare your partners to give.

Since your partners are partners, they will gladly tell you in advance how they expect to support your year-end campaign. You can use this information to set a realistic year-end fundraising goal and to plan how you will use partner leadership to influence more giving from strangers, acquaintances, and friends.

As soon as possible, deploy your relationship managers to spend some time with your partners.

Use this worksheet to help your relationship managers prepare to meet with partners.

The worksheet has two parts. As the person who is responsible for raising money for your small nonprofit, you will fill out the first part for the board or staff member who agreed to meet with the partner.

The relationship manager uses the second part as a script for her or his conversation with the partner. After the meeting, the relationship manager fills out the second part and turns it over to you.

As you collect these worksheets from your relationship managers, you’ll start to form a picture of what your year-end fundraising campaign can accomplish and how you need to proceed with your partners. As you get information back from these meetings, add it to the Partner Power Ranking Tool. You’ll start to see a picture of a year-end fundraising goal for your core supporters. This is what I mean when I say your partners will “write your year-end fundraising plan for you.”

And remember: As your partners go, so goes your year-end fundraising campaign.

This may seem like a lot of work, but so is the usual stuff small nonprofits do for year-end fundraising: Direct mail, events, media campaigns.

The difference is that doing a year-end fundraising campaign this way will raise way more money now and in the future on the strength of your partner relationships.

If you’re going to work hard, you might as well make it work that is most likely to pay off really well.


What's next (and some resources if you need help)

In the next lesson (9/7), I’m going to show you how to round out your year-end fundraising goal.

Then, we’ll get into the media and messages you’ll use to reach out to supporters (acquaintances, friends, and partners) as well as strangers (9/12).

In the final lesson (9/14), I’ll show you how to make a calendar and work plan to guide you through your year-end campaign week-by-week.

If you need help, here are a few options:

  • I'm planning at least two live webinars this month. Sign up here to get invitations to those when they go live soon.

  • Join the private Facebook group I set up for peer coaching and to take your questions.

  • You can sign up for a private coaching call with me here ($2/minute).

  • If you'd like to have me come work directly with your small nonprofit to help you create, launch, and run your year-end fundraising campaign, please send me an email here.

Onward and upward!

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