The 5 W's of fundraising process – and how they can help you raise more money

I’m sorry to be the one to break this news.

All great fundraising is underpinned by solid, documented processes.

I know, I know! A lot of us don’t like to think about boring old process when it comes to our fundraising.

Great fundraising is about relationships! Inspiration! Connection! Great storytelling! More donor love!

All of this is true.

But you know what’s even more true?

You won’t be able to take your fundraising to the next level until you develop clear, step by step documented processes to support your important work.

The good news is, great process needn’t be complicated – in fact, the best processes are clear, simple, and easy to execute.

One handy framework to apply to process development is the 5 W's – an idea you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever taken an introduction to journalism class.

Let’s take a closer look at the 5 W's, and how they can be used to help you develop a strong foundation of processes that will help your organization raise more money.

1. Why?

Think of this as the vision statement of your process – I’ve also heard this referred to as the Purpose Statement or Guiding Principle of your process.

This is an oft overlooked part of process development – but when everyone at your organization understands the true impact of a process, it can make a huge difference in terms of buy in and consistent execution.

Let’s say we’re documenting your process for welcoming new donors. A Purpose Statement for this process might read something like this:

The non-profit sector is facing a serious donor retention crisis. The results from the most recent Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, which looked at data from over 10,000 nonprofits in North America, indicate that the average new donor retention rate has hit a new low of 23%.

Our New Donor Welcome Process is an investment that will yield significant returns – if we can continuously improve the quality of our donor care, and meaningfully thank, engage and report back to our donors, we can move the needle on our donor retention, and significantly increase the funds we raise to meet our mission.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we believe in the power of Donor Love! The generosity and passion of our donors, and their commitment to change the world inspires our work every day – and taking fantastic care of our amazing supporters is simply the right thing to do.

Okay, I took a bit of artistic license there at the end – but heck, it’s your process, you can have fun, be creative, and let your organization’s personality and values shine through while you’re doing it!

2. What?

Let’s carry along with our original example of documenting a New Donor Welcome process (in fact, if you’re totally new to the notion of process creation, this might be a great place to start).

When I’m working with a new client on a fundraising assessment, one of the first things I like to do is take stock of all the different ways a donor is communicated with throughout the course of the year, using all of the different channels and approaches.

What materials are they receiving? What contacts are being made? What messages are being sent?

This would be a good place to start with your process. What are you already doing with your new donors, using which channels? What are else you doing throughout the year that you could re-purpose to keep donors updated on the impact of their gift?

One of the things I love about documenting process is it also helps you see gaps more clearly. Give it a try – simply document what you’re already doing, and you’ll start spotting great opportunities to improve your fundraising.

3. When?

Timeliness is a hugely important part of effective donor care.

According to Tom Ahern, first-time donors who get a personal thank you within 48 hours are four times more likely to give a second gift.

Donors are busy – they have a lot on their plates, give to a number of different charities, and could very easily forget having given to you in the first place.

In my favourite infographic ever, Bloomerang outlines the top reasons donors stop giving – and close to 10% have no memory of having contributed to the charity in the first place!

Time frames are crucial to include no matter what fundraising process you are documenting.

Everything from data management to donor care to qualifying new major donors is impacted by time frames – be sure to clearly articulate these.

4. Who?

This one’s pretty straightforward – who is responsible for executing each step of the process?

Theoretically, your new donor welcome process could include a number of different people in your organization. Who picks up the mail, receives the initial phone call, or receives notification of on-line donations?

Who is making the thank you calls? Signing the thank you letter? Sending the handwritten note? Who is responsible for assembling the Welcome Package? Mailing the most recent copy of your newsletter with a personalized sticky note?

If you’re a small shop, much of this could be taken care of by one person (I know, I’ve been there!) This makes it even more important for you to ensure that your CEO, Executive Director, and/or Board of Directors have a clearly articulated and documented role in your fundraising process.

5. Where?

Where would you be without awesome documented fundraising processes?

Okay, the 5th W is a bit of a stretch. It’s probably more like 4 W's – but look, now it’s even easier to get going on documenting your processes, because you have one less W to worry about!

But how?!

I know that documenting process can seem like one more thing to do in your already jam packed day.

However, ultimately, clearly documented processes will make your life easier – you’ll use your time more efficiently, you’ll be able to delegate more easily as your team grows, and you’ll be raising more money, more effectively.

Also, process documentation will help you build the case for greater resources for your fundraising program – it’s sometimes hard for non-fundraisers to understand the workload involved in great fundraising, and there’s nothing quite like seeing each step outlined in black and white!

I hope you’ve been inspired to try your hand at documenting your fundraising processes – think of these as helpful guidelines as there are no hard and fast rules on getting it done.

Get together with a pal at work, make a date, and start doodling around on a white board. Bring some snacks, invite a few other team members, and you’ve got yourself a Process Party (I’ll be watching my mailbox for my invitation!)

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