Fundraising for Busy Leaders: From High Stress to Fundraising Success

Kim Peterson • Jan 26, 2023
Fundraising for Busy Leaders Header

How to reduce the overwhelm and bring in more donations for small nonprofits

Taking on the task of the chief fundraiser, while also running an organization, can be one of the biggest challenges for a small nonprofit leader. Having one person responsible for the fundraising success of an organization can be a daunting task, leading many to struggle even to get started! 

Fundraising is an essential task for most nonprofit organizations. It is also a specialized skill that can take years to master through both formal learning programs and professional experience. 

For small teams working with lean budgets, it is often not possible to have a staff position devoted to fundraising. These tasks fall to the executive director or program staff, who, while highly skilled in many other areas, may lack fundraising skills and resources to give it their attention. 

Fundraising can therefore feel like a singularly daunting task, one that leaders of small nonprofits take on by themselves. But, the secret to effective and efficient fundraising in a small nonprofit is two parts: 

  1. Understand that fundraising is a system of many components; and
  2. Everyone is a fundraiser, with the ability to play a critical role in the fundraising system

The Fundraising System

The basic components of any system are inputs, processes, and outputs.

A graphic representing the 3 parts of the fundraising system: inputs, processes, outputs.

For fundraising this looks like this:

  • Inputs: staff or volunteer time, a budget, expertise, or knowledge.
  • Processes: strategies and tools.
  • Outputs: community awareness/engagement, strong external relationships, donations.

If there is an imbalance or dysfunction in the inputs or processes, the outputs will suffer. The outputs are essential to the life of a charity and they are also connected. High awareness and engagement, lead to strong relationships with people in the community which leads to support through gifts of time, money, and knowledge.

Processes for Fundraising Success

Focus on strategy

What can get lost in the day-to-day hustle of running a small nonprofit, is the importance of taking the time to plan and determine strategies to raise money that are specific to the needs and capacity of your organization. 

Regular planning to determine fundraising strategy and realistic action plans bring clarity and confidence into an organization. Having a clear picture of the year and knowing where to focus gives leaders the opportunity to plan ahead and assign or delegate fundraising tasks and responsibilities to their staff or volunteers (including board members).

Strategies should also not be limited to just solicitation (direct mail, e-appeals, monthly giving, grant writing), but should encompass the entire “donor journey” which also includes awareness building, cultivation of relationships, and stewardship to maximize donor retention.

3 people discussing a donor stewardship plan.

Build Your Nonprofit’s Donor Stewardship Plan

Stewardship activities are touchpoints for nurturing your donor relationships and helping to increase your donor retention rate. With this FREE template, you can map out your donor stewardship plan. 

Very often, small nonprofits have a robust communications strategy but do not take the opportunity to weave fundraising into the plan. This can be a great opportunity to piggyback on the work already accomplished to increase and measure fundraising success without adding more tasks to the “to-do” list.

Focus on tools

From the identified strategies, we begin to see what tools are needed to most effectively achieve the established goals. While a challenge in itself, digital transformation and investing in the right tools enable small nonprofits to be highly efficient and effective in their fundraising campaign efforts, leading to a potential increase in your organization’s average gift size.

There is an abundance of tools on the market for nonprofits, however, the two most essential for fundraising are customer relationship management software (CRM) and an email marketing tool. 

If selected and implemented with care, these tools can provide opportunities for automating fundraising processes, giving hundreds of precious hours back to leaders and staff who may have been previously completing these tasks manually. These tools enable small nonprofits to build strong, authentic relationships – the foundation of all fundraising efforts and community-building – at scale.

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Inputs for Fundraising Success

Focus on People – Everyone is a Fundraiser

Fundraising is not simply the process of asking for money. Classic fundraising textbooks will teach the fundraising “cycle” with steps including prospect identification + qualification + cultivation + solicitation + stewardship (and back again). 

While this is still a standard framework for the process of fundraising campaigns within larger organizations (especially for major gifts), for smaller nonprofits it can feel like an awkward fit and doesn’t apply to all fundraising types (such as peer-to-peer fundraising events). For anyone not familiar with fundraising (board members, program/administrative staff), the assumption might be that they have nothing to offer – which is not true and pushes every part of the process back to the person “responsible for fundraising”.

Instead, let’s view fundraising as a process of relationship and community-building. From this perspective, we see that every person in an organization has relevant strengths and skills to contribute: connecting, storytelling, writing, technology know-how, listening, and lived experience (it’s all in there!). A leader who is keen to strengthen their fundraising strategy will find that it’s easier to delegate “fundraising” tasks when they are aligned with the existing strengths (and responsibilities) of their team.

For this to be successful, organizations must make an intentional culture shift to embrace relationship and community-building as vital to the short and long-term sustainability of their nonprofit organization. In other words, we cultivate a clear understanding of, and enthusiasm for the entire fundraising process among all members of the organization – volunteers, staff, and board members. Fundraising then becomes a more natural elements of the organization and the “Chief of Everything” can let go of some tasks as others are eager and empowered to step in.

Granted, a shift in culture does not happen overnight. But with planning and professional development, a determined leader can move the needle. To begin, Cedar Fundraising offers a free video training series covering a Donor Journey Framework for small nonprofits. If interested, you can start the “journey” here. 

For leaders, it’s easy to get bogged down with a never-ending “to-do” list. Fundraising can seem like a heavy burden that is theirs alone to bear.

Fundraising programs at small nonprofits thrive and work with increased efficiency when everyone in the organization has a thorough understanding of its importance, how it works, and its essential role within the system.

With a plan and strategies suited to your goals and capacity, the right tools in place, and a mission-focused and empowered team working together, effective fundraising campaigns can happen with less stress and better success.

Chart showing upward growth fundraising revenue.

Forecast Your Annual Fundraising Revenue

Use this calculator to accurately forecast major gifts, grant funding from foundations, governments, and corporations, as well as individual and recurring donations, and more.

Headshot of Kim Peterson, author of blog: Fundraising for Busy Leaders.

About the author:

Kim Peterson
Owner, Cedar Fundraising

Kim Peterson, CFRE is the owner of Cedar Fundraising, which provides 1:1 consulting services for growth-stage nonprofits.  With a passion for high-caliber administration, Kim digs into the nitty-gritty of nonprofit operations to build better fundraising systems and a culture of community-building that supports the work of mission-driven teams.