Adventures in Fundraising: Just Do It!

To-do list book.

Image by koalazymonkey via Flickr

This post is part of a series.  Click here to read previous posts.

Like pretty much every other nonprofit out there, Mach 30 launched a year-end fundraising campaign.  Unlike other organizations, this campaign is not a part of our fundraising plan.

Because we don’t have a fundraising plan.

We meant to have a fundraising plan.  We started to work on one.  And yet, as sometimes happens with all volunteer organizations, the actual planning fell through the cracks.

It was starting to look like we’d just have to put off our fundraising until after the new year.  Luckily for us, one of our board members got impatient (in the good way).

Rather than getting bogged down in developing a comprehensive plan, Greg  drafted an e-mail to send to friends and relatives who’d shown interest in  Mach 30 over the past year.  He shared that e-mail with other board members, and we worked together to develop this “core” letter.

Howdy everyone,
So much has happened at Mach 30 since we last spoke!  In previous conversations I probably used words like “slow-going”, “paperwork”, and “we’re getting there”.  After a year of focusing on administrative and organizational requirements, I’m excited to report we are picking up speed.

The most exciting development to date is that we are ready to submit our application for non-profit status to the IRS.  While that may not sound exciting, this document is the result of over a year’s worth of discussions, writing, and (oh so many) meetings.  By submitting this document we take a giant step toward becoming a “real” 501(c)(3) nonprofit and get that much closer to a world where regular people (like us) get to go to space.

It also means that now is a great time to get involved.  The paperwork is (mostly) done, and we are looking for people from all walks of life who dream of going to space — even if they can’t imagine how to make it happen.  If that sounds like you, or someone you know, then sign up for our monthly newsletter.  You will receive short updates about what we are working on, and learn how to make your own contributions.  For example, did you know our volunteers don’t have to be rocket scientists?

Thank you so much for your interest and support.  It means a lot to me personally, and will have a huge impact on the success of Mach 30 in 2011 and in years to come.

Sincerely,
<board member>
ad astra per civitas – to the stars through community

P.S.  There is another way you can help.  As I mentioned earlier, we are about to submit our IRS form 1023, Application for non-profit status.  One of the criteria to qualify as a public charity is that our funding must come directly from the public.   I’ll spare you the mind-numbing details about how they calculate this public funding percentage, except to say this– in order to attain this public charity status we need “small” donations from “large” numbers of people or organizations.  For the last 2 years we have had relatively “large” donations from a relatively “small” number of folks.  Your small donation ($25-$50) will go a long way toward helping us balance this equation.  Just click here to donate.

Each board member will take this basic letter, rewrite parts to make it sound more like them and then personally send it to the people with whom they’ve had “Mach 30 conversations” throughout the year.

Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

Is it a perfect fundraising letter?  Not really.  There are two separate calls to action and the storytelling elements are pretty weak.  Plus, since we don’t have a comprehensive fundraising plan or a donor list to speak of, we won’t send it to every person who should receive it and are likely to drop the ball on capturing all the names and e-mail addresses of people who show interest.

Is it better than missing yet another opportunity to invite people into our fold?  Absolutely.

I am not suggesting developing a plan is pointless.  We would raise more money and reach more people with a fundraising plan that is well integrated into the rest of our work.  A real plan is crucial to the long-term sustainability of our organization.

And yet, it’s December and there is no plan.  In this situation a “pretty good” letter sent to the people we come up with off the top of our heads, is better than nothing.

Your Turn

What are you putting off because your plan isn’t ready?  Is there a step you could take now to move forward?

4 thoughts on “Adventures in Fundraising: Just Do It!

  1. I am so sick of wrestling annual appeal letters out of the hands of staff and board members alike. It’s like they can’t let go of the letter until it’s perfect…or until the opportunity has passed us by.

    Lovely to hear about a short-cut success story. It’s kinda like Nike, right? Just do it!

    Thanks, JM

    • Absolutely Jenny–you also bring up a good point. It’s very easy to let process–even a really good process–get in the way of doing the real work of your organization. Steve Jobs and now Seth Godin, say the same thing another way: Real artists ship.

      No matter how fabulous your ideas, they are worth nothing until you release them to the wild.

  2. I was relieved to discover that the board member consulted with others and didn’t act as a maverick.

    Seems a good board or committe strategy is to not only make a list of to-do projects, but put a deadline on them, and then have a hail Mary back-up plan (such as the letter campaign you describe) with its own deadline, just in case. (But then perhaps you would be sanctioning missing deadlines?)

    • Thanks for bringing up the other side of the equation, Bob. This post certainly doesn’t represent the ideal situation. What it does represent is the ability to juggle long-term thinking and the need for immediate action in a pretty powerful way.

      As much as I love planning (and I really, really love to develop plans) what Greg realized was waiting for the plan wasn’t going to work in the short term, so he offered a solution that would not derail future plans, and would also lead to some short-term success. That was possible because we work in a very open way and without silos–both because we are small and because the organization is specifically designed to avoid them.

      It would not have worked if Greg had acted alone, or if he was unaware of the organizations fundraising needs and the general direction we were heading.

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