In fundraising time is not on your side.

These blogs are beginning to look more like a travelogue than about Fundraising. So far we have Rowed the Atlantic, done Everest the Easy Way and navigated Spain. I’ve learnt from all of them  and I’m still thinking about my last blog; The Length of Spain… Barefoot! holds another lesson. In fundraising time is not on your side.

My sister first told me about her plan a year before she undertook the challenge. It seemed a bit fantastical. Only when the website appeared, and she began blogging about her preparation, did it really register with me what a major achievement this would be. Then about three months before the run she mentioned she was fundraising for a local hospice. Finally my attention was fully engaged. This was where I could contribute! But I had probably already missed the boat.

She was starting from Santander. The bank was an obvious potential sponsor. The Guinness Book of Records was a potential source of major publicity and support to fundraising. Surely no one had ever run the length of Spain barefoot? A host of other possibilities came to mind. Any experienced fundraiser will know the outcome. You cannot put a plan together at such short notice, particularly where you are looking for significant sponsorship from a large organisation. I was really disappointed that I hadn’t got engaged a lot earlier.

The moral is simple. Time is not on your side as a Fundraiser. The start of a campaign has a beguiling sense of timelessness when the finishing line apparently lies over the horizon. But the red flags should be waving already. The more time that is eaten up during preparation, the less is available for the main activity: getting in the money! The more slippage at the front end, the more likely it will bite you on the back end.

I am fanatical about preparation. The Case is the base. If you don’t have that right, if you don’t have all the elements in place, then it’s like Sisyphus pushing that rock uphill. The bigger the campaign, the more time is needed for the serious business of fundraising. The bigger the campaign, the more opportunities for delay in the planning stage. Campaign Board members have an important role to play here. They are one step removed from the planning. It helps them to see what is really material and what is insignificant elaboration that is delaying progress. So start from the finish line. Work out how much time the fundraising will need, then chart the programme backwards.

Fundraising under pressure is very difficult. Time pressure translates into nervousness and anxiety on the part of the Fundraiser. Donors feel it and pressuring prospects leads to smaller donations or simple rejection. Trying to recover that ground in face of rejections becomes impossible. The message is clear. Burst from the starting blocks and keep up the pace. And be realistic about the time needed for the task.

That reminds me of a campaign I once tendered for. I am always careful not to overpromise and to explain the challenges. If you get the job, you will have to confront those challenges. It’s better if the client is forewarned. One of the issues I raised, in this instance, was that the time frame was tight. I didn’t get the job. A competitive tender was obviously more persuasive about the possibilities of raising the money.

But a year later I got a phone call. The previous arrangement was not working out. The money was not coming in. Would I take over! Same project, same target with one year less to achieve it. In fundraising time is not on your side. I think you can guess my response.