How to fundraise like an entrepreneur

It only took me 20 years to figure out.

Most of the successes in my fundraising career – and many of the times I fell flat on my face – are down to one thing.

I’m an entrepreneur, through and though.

While our sector hasn’t always embraced the entrepreneurial fundraiser with open arms, I think having this mindset will set you apart in the future, as fundraising continues to become more creative, more challenging and more competitive.

I believe we all have some entrepreneur in us – and if you can cultivate the positive attributes, and manage the more (ahem) hazardous characteristics, you’ll see a huge impact on your fundraising.

Here are three dos - and one don’t! - to help you embrace your entrepreneurial side, and use those great qualities to raise more money for your great cause.

DO solve more problems

Great entrepreneurs are excellent problem solvers – the most successful ones can identify the biggest pain points of their customers, and offer solutions to help alleviate that pain.

Could it be that great fundraisers are also in the business of helping their donors find solutions to their biggest problems?

No matter what your cause, chances are you’re working towards solving a seemingly intractable problem – and when you find donors who care equally about that problem, you’ve found your fundraising sweet spot.

I know, our organizations are often addressing complex issues with multiple root causes – poverty and climate change are not problems that come with simple solutions.

But I guarantee you that some element of your mission and work alleviates one or more pain points for your donor. And if you haven’t figured that out yet, this is a great opportunity to tap into your inner entrepreneur, and do some detective work.

DO look for a better way to do things

Entrepreneurs are always looking to improve the quality of what we do – hacks, systems and strategies that help get important things done more effectively are like catnip to the entrepreneurial fundraiser.

If you want to cultivate your entrepreneurial side, make it a point to scan constantly for improvements you can make in your fundraising.

It could be a big change, like a new system, or a quick hack, like tweaking something that’s already working to make it even more successful.

One great place to start is assessing the strategies and systems you have in place to care for your donors.

Even small quality improvements, like sending out a warm thank you within 48 hours of receiving a gift, can have a big impact on your bottom line.

DO learn how to spot great opportunities

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’m a huge advocate for strong fundraising foundations and best practices – focused, tried and true strategies win out over the fundraising flavour of the month any day.

But sometimes, when things swing too far in that direction, we can get stuck in a rut.

You’ll know this has happened when you hear some variation on the phrase that strikes terror in the hearts of entrepreneurs everywhere:

That’s not how we do it here.

Entrepreneurial fundraisers strike a balance between implementing the tried and true, and knowing a great new opportunity when they see it.

And entrepreneurial organizations are willing to invest in smart, calculated risks when it come to fundraising.

If you already have a strong foundation of effective fundraising strategies, and you know this because you’re measuring your KPIs, then plan to test something new this year.

But be careful, and watch out for SOS!

DON’T fall victim to SOS

One quality of the entrepreneur that can land you in hot water is the tendency towards Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS).

Entrepreneurs LOVE new initiatives – there’s nothing quite like the surge of energy that comes along with implementing a new idea.

But jumping from idea to idea can lead to Shiny Object Syndrome - bouncing between an ever-changing assortment of fundraising activities and events, and never sticking with them long enough to see real results.

Chasing after the latest and greatest tactic or trend in fundraising is so tempting for the entrepreneurial – but watch out, it can be a significant distraction that could hold you back from true fundraising success.

How will you tap into your entrepreneurial strengths in 2019? Will you look for ways to make continual improvements to your fundraising, or figure out how to solve your donors' most painful problems? Take a risk, and try something new! Your inner entrepreneur will thank you.

Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraiser who has been helping great causes like yours build and grow successful fundraising programs since 1995. She’s the President-Elect of the world’s largest Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chapter in Toronto, and the National Chair of AFP’s Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy. Contact Emma to book your free discovery session, and find out how you can work together to strategically focus your precious resources on the fundraising initiatives that truly work.

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