The Goldie Company

Parley: November 2014 - This is what a Vigilant Fundraiser looks like: John Phin

John Phin lives and breathes fundraising. As a professional fundraiser, consultant, staff member, teacher and volunteer, John has served a variety of charitable and community-based organizations, in addition to his role as part-time lecturer in Fundraising and Fund Development at Mount Royal University.

Professionally curious about fundraising, fund development and non-profit management, John is an advocate and true leader of the profession.

John shares his expertise on the “dos and don’ts” in creating a fundraising strategy.

What is the first step in developing a fundraising strategy?

First thing is to really understand the mission. The Strategic Plan must, above all, be rooted in what the organization is trying to accomplish. If you understand this, then the Fund Development pieces – the activities and tactics - will fall into place. To keep everything fresh, I think leaders of the organization should review the mission regularly, even annually, so they can give the charity its best direction and continue to validate its purpose in the community. An organization can change over time, so it is important to examine its mission regularly.

What makes a successful fundraising strategy?

Being true to the vision. The mission defines ‘why we exist’ and the vision gives it shape. In fundraising, the vision is what donors buy into most. Build strategies on the back of what the organization hopes to accomplish for the community and you will have a pretty good chance of fundraising success.

What should you avoid when creating a fundraising strategy?

Don’t abandon your professional responsibility. Writing a fundraising strategy is a piece of work that shouldn’t be delegated to just anyone because it’s too important to be crafted outside the knowledge and experience of professional fundraisers. Professional fundraisers know this, so we need to stand up and enthusiastically defend our Strategic Plan’s recommendations because we know they’re based on sound principles.

What makes a great fundraiser? What does the perfect fundraiser look like to you?

Curiosity seems to define great fundraisers. The best fundraisers are constantly looking for improvement or new and effective ways to do things. They’re not afraid to change up or energize their development plans with a tweak here and there. So they read, research, explore, prod and poke at things that might help their organization. It’s embedded in the idea that this, truly, is a profession.

What do you expect fundraising, or the means in which it is conducted, to look like in the next 25 years?

I’m seeing the pendulum swing back to the fundamentals of fundraising; that it’s about the relationships donors have with the organizations they choose to support. It was never about the organization’s needs but, rather, what the donor wanted to accomplish and how they could help a particular organization achieve its mission and vision for the community. So, I suspect donor stewardship will become increasingly important and I’m seeing smart organizations paying attention to this.

The messages we use and the way we convey them is changing. Social media is a great communications tool that we’ll continue to use because everyone seems to have a Twitter or Facebook account, but I think we’ll have figured out a role for these tools as facilitating fundraising and not as a means to extract money.

What is the key takeaway in your chapter of The Vigilant Fundraiser?

I would hope, broadly, that readers recognize that the Development Plan and its collection of fundraising strategies must be approached as an integrated piece of work. To me it’s a three-legged stool and fundraising is just one part. Forgetting to incorporate community engagement and communications activities means fundraising will just hobble along and never really achieve great results.

What do you think a ‘vigilant fundraiser’ looks like?

A ‘vigilant fundraiser’ is constantly thinking about improving fundraising for their organization. They live and breathe their profession, constantly massaging scenarios and thinking of ways to do things better. To be a ‘vigilant fundraiser’ means that your switch is always on.

Julie Dorsey is a Writer for The Goldie Company. She interviewed John Phin for his thoughts on creating a Fundraising Strategy.