November 6, 2017

Simple Mistakes Many Nonprofit Groups Make and How to Avoid Them

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Simple Mistakes Many Nonprofit Groups Make and How to Avoid Them

Fundraising should be simple. Your group or club needs money, so you pick one of many fundraiser ideas, recruit volunteers and watch as a pile of money grows. In reality, fundraising is more complicated than that, and a simple mistake can sink a valiant effort. So, here’s a look at some examples of mistakes and possible solutions.

Planning and Organization

Many fundraising groups on all levels, from internationally known charities to a humble school fundraising endeavor, suffer from a lack of purpose.

Example of mistake: (On mailed forms asking for donations) “Please donate $5 today to help make clean water possible in underserved communities.”

Solution: “Please donate $5 today to build a water well in Mwamanongu Village, Africa. Your donation will help 300,000 Africans who struggle with water scarcity. Infants and children are especially at risk, as they are more susceptible to diarrhea and other effects stemming from unsafe water resources.”

What’s the difference? The example mistake was vague. The solution is to spell out the purpose behind your cause in detail. Allow your potential donors to visualize how they are helping.

Here’s a look at another simple but potentially costly error. To set it up: A high school chess club is sifting through school fundraising ideas in order to fund their trip to a prestigious chess tournament in New York City.

Example of mistake: The chess club decides to hold a board games night in the school gym and to charge $5 admission per person.

Solution: In addition to charging $5 admission, the club dives into related efforts to raise money. Parents of club members buy yard signs similar to those that sports players get, displaying the school’s name and player’s name. There’s also a silent auction during board games night, and several of the club members reach out to local businesses asking for sponsorship opportunities in exchange for more visibility for the business. Last but not least, a page on the chess club website details the purpose of the fundraiser and asks for ongoing online donations.

You do your endeavors a disservice if you limit yourself to only one “income” stream. People are capable of giving in many ways, and what appeals to one person might not to another. For just a little more effort, you can get a lot more money when you explore multiple fundraising avenues.


Having the fundraiser at the right time(s) is another important element to success.

Example of mistake: (In emails sent to parents at a high school) “Next month, our girls’ basketball team is supposed to travel to Los Angeles for a tournament. We still need $3,000 to make that happen, so…

Solution: “In four months, the girls’ basketball team is traveling to Los Angeles for a tournament…”

You don’t need to read the rest of the messages to know what the mistake and solution are. The mistake is waiting too long to begin seriously fundraising, and the solution is to begin efforts in plenty of time. Of course, it’s possible to begin early but to not raise as much money as you hoped for. That’s why it is essential to have multiple avenues for raising funds.

To check that your fundraiser is on track, set milestones and goals. This way, you’re not surprised with only one month to go that you don’t have enough money. You’ll have inklings much earlier that something needs to change.

Example of mistake: A school swim team holds its fundraiser, not realizing that two other school teams are having theirs that week.

Solution: The swim team checks the timing of other fundraisers and has its event at a time when more people can participate.

Another timing error occurs when you pick a date that’s not good. It could be due to seasonal reasons (an event happens to be on the day a snowstorm hits) or because a lot of other things are going on at the same time. Be aware of what else is going on or could be going on in the worlds of your target audience.

Quality of Volunteers

Whether you’re having a big or small event, it can be especially tempting to prioritize volunteer quantity over quality. However, your volunteers, in one way, are the face of your organization or club. Set minimum quality standards and vet them. Take this scenario: A booster club picks from high school fundraising ideas to hold an arts and crafts day.

Example of mistake: Asking volunteers to stay from open to close, overworking them.

Solution: Scheduling shifts to maintain volunteer quality.

Example of mistake: Sending around signup sheets for a few weeks, asking anyone who is willing to volunteer to help out. On the day of the event, it turns out that one of the “artists” knows little about the craft and that none of the volunteers know CPR.

Solution: Volunteers were vetted, and fundraisers ensured that there was at least one volunteer on shift at all times to meet certain needs.

Enthusiasm of the Fundraiser

Motivation can be a problem too–either there’s too much or too little.

Example of mistake: Mallory is, yet again, chairing this year’s fundraising drive. She goes through the movements robotically.

Solution: Someone with a fresh perspective takes over the fundraiser, or Mallory is allowed to choose a different idea.

Example of mistake: Gus is so passionate about his cause that he berates anyone who declines to help.

Solution: The fundraising committee meets with Gus and explains if that he cannot be more objective, he cannot be part of their efforts.

Simple mistakes can run the gamut from failing to account for other income streams to having the same old fundraiser every year. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to prevent them.

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