The top five challenges for fundraisers  


A fundraiser’s job is never done. After all, the more money you can raise, the more your organization can do - right? And, as our work is all about doing good, the more good we can do the better the world should be. So, what are the biggest challenges we face as a profession? THINK Canada asked delegates at AFP Congress this year to pick their biggest challenge from the five we thought were most pressing, and here are the results:

Out on top was not having a clear donor development plan, to ensure that you maximize your organizations’ return on investment, and engagement, of your supporters. We know that the focus all too often is about getting new donors in, or getting their next gift, but sometimes this is at the cost of neglecting the full potential that could be realized from those donors who are already supportive. Our top tip is to ensure you have a coordinated strategy and are not just deploying isolated tactics. There needs to be a medium to long-term plan that you are working to, and not just reacting to key dates (year end, anyone?) in the calendar. If you need help with that - some extra thinking, a challenging eye, or a trusted partner to help you develop a new strategy - then THINK Canada can help. 

Next up was the challenge of keeping the team working at 100%, despite occasional resourcing or skills gaps. The loss of a key staff member, sometimes with all the institutional (and heaven forbid, donor) knowledge, can really halt progress in its tracks. A stop-start fundraising program is painful for you and your donors, and it will be evident in your results. Our top tip here is to be ready to fill the gap in the short term, and not just concentrate on the new permanent staff member that you need to recruit. We have a team of experienced fundraisers, across all disciplines, from senior to middle management, ready to take the hot seat and keep things moving forward. An interim placement from us can help you to focus on the deliverables, add energy and fresh insight, and ensure you move your fundraising forward at the pace the strategy (and the Board) demands.

A close third was ensuring donors get the love, attention and customization they deserve. It ties in of course with the number one concern about having an appropriate donor development plan; but how do you know how well you are delivering the stewardship program you’ve put in place? Our advice here is to not just put a stewardship plan in place, but ensure you monitor, test and then develop it based on the feedback you get. Donors' expectations are high, and they can change over time - as can the service you get from your internal teams and any third-party suppliers. Our Stewardship Tracker is designed to do just that, with a 12-month activity schedule using mystery supporters who will test your processes and responses. We’ll give you immediate feedback on urgent issues, plus two full reports points during the year; which means you get reassurance on the good stuff, and clear recommendations for improvement from our experience in this area.

Next up was fundraisers knowing what donor data means, and how best to use it. We’re hoping it’s low on the list because the fundraising and data teams are on the same page on this and all is good - but it’s also possible that there are silos at work – and that the two teams are not making the most of the donor data and the rich insight that should come from it. Our top tip here is quite simply to learn to love the data, and then ensure you use it wisely. Donor data is as close to donors as you will get in most cases, unless your fundraising involves a very small number of donors with whom you have personal relationships. Understanding what is on your database, ensuring the right information is recorded, asking the right questions of it, and then deploying the answers in your segmentation, approaches, ask levels, contact points etc., altogether makes for excellent fundraising. Knowing where to start, or perhaps just assessing where you are now, can be very hard. We can help you with this challenge with either dedicated consultancy focused on your particular challenge, or with providing an interim resource to embed in your team for a short period to work through the assessment, options and recommendations.

Finally, and a surprise to us, was the challenge of how understanding digital fits into fundraising. Like the data conundrum above, we were wondering if this low ranking answer was due to digital already being done in an awesome way by fundraisers, or perhaps because the digital opportunities were either not being realized by respondents, or because (again, like data) this activity fell to ‘another team’. Regardless of reason, our advice here is not to think of digital as a separate thing, and certainly not the new, shiny thing you must do, but simply to look at it for what it is – a set of additional channels for engagement with supporters. You don’t start with the channels for your fundraising right now, so don’t start with digital. Always start with the cause, your case for support, your ask and your audience – and then work out the appropriate channels. As always, we can help you with challenges in this area. From knowing where to start, to assessing what you do now, to looking at what channels are appropriate to your cause and donors; and more.

We really enjoyed running the ‘biggest challenge’ poll at AFP Congress, and talking to fundraisers like you about the issues at hand. THINK Canada is all about putting the pieces of the puzzle together to get the best results out of fundraising, and our team is ready to talk to you more about our offerings across consultancy, interim and intelligence services. Tell us what you need; we’d love to talk.


Dawn Varley is THINK Canada's Client Development Consultant.
To meet her, click here.