10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix

By John Pearson

There is a wide continuum of beliefs concerning the board member’s role in fundraising. Policy Governance® zealots warn against board committees that replicate staff work. According to John Carver, “Board committees are to help get the board’s job done, not to help with the staff’s job.” You may disagree—and that’s OK.

Whether you’re discussing fundraising in your board meeting, or wearing your volunteer hat to suggest improvements, it’s 100 percent certain you’ll be talking about fundraising when your year-end results are in. (Was it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down year?)

So…for what it’s worth, here’s my list of 10 fundraising mistakes I notice frequently. The good news—all 10 are fairly easy to fix. I’m not suggesting you put these on the board agenda (it’s staff work, not board work)—but from a board policy perspective, who owns the annual evaluation of your fundraising program?

Here are the first five mistakes:

MISTAKE #1: Donor letters that thank every person for their faithful giving—when, in fact, the letter is also sent to non-donors! (Easy Fix: segment your list into donors and non-donors.)

MISTAKE #2: A donor gives a gift to the ABC program, but the president’s generic thank you letter highlights the XYZ program. (Easy Fix: segment your thank you letters to appropriately report on progress for the specific gift given.)

MISTAKE #3: When a donor gives online, the emailed receipt is inappropriately designed for product purchases with a “shipping and handling” line, etc. (Easy Fix: use online giving software. Using a "one-size fits all" software program only communicates to donors that you don’t have your act together. Board members: give an online gift today--and assess the quality of the giving experience, and the receipting process.)

MISTAKE #4: When Mary Smith receives an appeal letter, or a thank you letter, addressed to “Dear Mrs. Smith,” but the CEO calls her by her first name, “Mary,” it’s one more indication that there is a sloppy, undisciplined development approach. (Easy Fix: customize every donor record. Good software will help you do this.)

MISTAKE #5: Focusing on the year-end tax benefits of giving versus the importance of the ministry’s work and results. When we appeal to tax-saving versus soul-saving, we miss the opportunity to disciple donors in what Wes Willmer calls the “Revolution in Generosity.”

Watch for the other five mistakes in the next blog.

QUESTION: When is the last time your board asked for an evaluation of your fundraising program and practices?


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.