Ways to Plug Your Leaky Fundraising Bucket

Denise McMahan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and is the founder and publisher of CausePlanet.org where nonprofit leaders devour Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and sticky applications from the must-read books they recommend.

A leaky bucket could be contributing to your fundraising dollars trickling out.

“Fundraising is strategic and mission critical, yet it does not receive the appropriate level of attention it justifies from organizational leadership … With government support for nonprofits waning, the failure to upgrade the management of the fundraising initiative could compromise the long-term viability of nonprofit organizations and NGO’s around the globe.”

This quotation by Ellen Bristol in Fundraising the SMART Way is representative of data The Bristol Strategy Group has been collecting through the free online Leaky Bucket Assessment since 1995. Organizations of all sizes and levels of sophistication around the world have responded to this online assessment and Bristol is sharing the results in a full and condensed report below.

The assessment “measures the level of maturity of nine basic business practices that either contribute to or detract from the productivity of the fundraising effort.”

Nine business practices surrounding fundraising effectiveness:

1. How you qualify donor/grantor prospects

2. How you acquire new donors

3. How you retain donors

4. How you develop donors through “up-selling” and “cross-selling”

5. How you manage funding diversification

6. Your staff resources for fundraising

7. How you measure fundraising performance

8. What you include in your fundraising “toolkit”

9. What techniques you use when fundraising results fall below desired levels

We’ve highlighted some of Bristol’s report below in the areas of overall performance, acquisition, retention and upgrades. We also included her thoughts on qualifying prospects with an excerpt of our interview.

Overall Performance: How Does Your Leaky Bucket Compare with Others?

Complete the assessment and read the full or condensed report below to find out how your fundraising productivity compares with your organizational peers on the nine areas above. For example, only four percent rate their productivity bucket as “Watertight,” while 21 percent report their bucket as “Leaking Like a Sieve.” Seventy five percent in the middle report a need for help and productivity maintenance. This means 96 percent of all nonprofits that completed the Leaky Bucket Assessment need to apply basic management tools to improve their fundraising results.

Acquisition, Retention and Upgrading

In fundraising competencies two, three and four from above, Bristol highlights the assessment results in the areas of acquisition, retention and upgrading:

Acquiring new funding sources: 62 percent had no targets or were merely “encouraged” to acquire new funders

Retention: 72 percent had no targets, or were merely “encouraged” to retain new funders

Upgrading current funders (upgrades and multiple gifts): 77 percent had no targets or were merely “encouraged” to upgrade

Qualifying Prospects

We’d like to share Bristol’s interview answer about competency number one, “How you qualify donor/grantor prospects.”

CausePlanet: In applying the Scorecard practice, what common pitfalls have you observed that fundraisers should try to avoid?

Bristol: The SMART Way™ Prospect Scorecard is a method for describing the criteria your agency holds for selecting donor prospects offering the most potential. Our approach is specific enough to score the prospect as an A, B, C or D, where A’s offer the most potential for lifetime donor value. One major pitfall comes at the beginning of the process, and that’s the idea that your fundraising team already knows which funders are worth your development team’s efforts.

In our Leaky Bucket Assessment for Effective Fundraising, about 76 percent of our 600-plus respondents said either they had no standards or criteria, or they had undocumented preferences. That’s an enormous number of nonprofit agencies winging it when it comes to selecting candidates for cultivation. Unfortunately, a lot of fundraising professionals and nonprofit executives seem to think it’s perfectly OK not to go to the fuss and bother of establishing such criteria. They assume they already know what they’re looking for or they fall prey to the myth that the development pro with the biggest Rolodex, the one with connections to the rich and famous, is the right person for the job. As it turns out, it takes a whole lot more than connections–or giving capacity–to succeed in raising predictable, consistent levels of income.

The second pitfall comes at the end of the process, after the qualifying criteria have been developed, vetted and documented, and that’s not bothering to use it. I’ve been surprised and dismayed to find that agencies with their own homegrown qualifying benchmarks, or even our Scorecard profiles, simply ignore them. And then they wonder why they’re not getting much value out of their efforts to acquire new donors. They rely on connections, guesses and assumptions that the individuals’ alma maters, the cars they drive, the jewelry they wear or the zip codes they live in are all they need to know to justify investing time and energy to cultivate them.

Sometimes a more insidious force is at work, when well-meaning board directors intervene and demand the fundraising team pursue their friends or relatives. If the friend or relative passes the Scorecard test, that’s just fine, but if not, you end up wasting unrecoverable time attempting to cultivate a DOA, a prospect who’s “dead on arrival.”

Plug Those Leaks

One of the first steps in upgrading the management of your fundraising efforts is to understand not only the areas you can measure but also where you fall on the spectrum of productivity. Bristol’s assessment can help you with this answer. If you are leaking like a sieve or perhaps dripping occasionally, consider reading the full report and how you might plug some of your leaks.


Denise McMahan

Denise McMahan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and is the founder and publisher of Cause Planet, where nonprofit leaders devour Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and sticky applications from the must-read books they recommend.

July 8, 2015

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