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How to systemize your fundraising

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Many nonprofits share a common problem when it comes to fundraising: they don’t have enough time, money, or people-power to do everything they want to do. They want to raise more money and do more good in the world, but simply don’t have the resources to do any more than they already are. The key to doing more with less is systemization. When nonprofits build fundraising systems, they can raise more money with the same resources, and they can do it with less stress and hassle.

What is a fundraising system?

A fundraising system is a knowable, scalable process for raising money for your nonprofit. It is knowable because an organization knows that when it puts certain inputs into the system, it gets certain results. And it is scalable because it can grow as your nonprofit grows.

Fundraising systems allow your nonprofit to avoid reinventing the wheel every time you approach a donor, make an ask, or build a donor cultivation calendar. They are based on data and metrics from your organization, combined with industry-wide fundraising best practices.

Most nonprofits that use systemized fundraising build a number of systems based on the strategies they employ. For example, your nonprofit may have systems for approaching board member referrals, upgrading donors, reactivating lapsed donors, onboarding new donors, doing grant research, and more.

The best part about fundraising systems is that they make decisions much easier. You’ll know exactly what works for your nonprofit based on real-world data. You’ll know that, if you do all seven things called for in your lapsed donor reactivation system, you’ve done all you can to reactivate that donor. If the donor doesn’t reengage, you can safely move them off of your cultivation list.

The four components of a good fundraising system

While every fundraising system is different, there are four components that every fundraising system needs if it is going to be successful:


The first thing that every good fundraising system needs to have in place is a set of defined goals. You need to know what the system is designed to accomplish. These goals should be specific and measurable.

For example, when building a donor stewardship system for your organization, you might say that your goals are to increase donor retention, increase donor upgrades, and increase donor referrals. Great fundraising systems go even further and specify how much of an increase you want to see in each area.


The next component of good fundraising systems is that they have established timelines. This means that your fundraising system needs to include deadlines for each action or decision that is called for in the system.

For example, as part of a donor communications system, you may say that you will send a donor newsletter by e-mail each month, and that the first draft will be completed by the first Thursday of each month. You would also specify the dates by which revisions would be complete, the layout would be set, and the date on which the newsletter will be sent to subscribers each month.


The third key component of any good fundraising system is defined responsibilities. This means that a person (or group of people) is identified as having responsibility for accomplishing each of the action steps in your fundraising system.

For example, in the e-mail newsletter system noted above, you could say that the newsletter will be drafted by the development coordinator no later than the first Thursday of each month, and the revisions will be handled by the development director no later than the second Thursday of each month.


The final component of good fundraising systems is segmentation. This means that the activities called for in your systems will be broken down by donor segment, with different activities carried out depending on the segment.

For example, in your donor thanking system you may say that every donor who gives over $500 will receive a thank-you call from the development director within four days of receiving the gift, and every donor who gives less than $500 will receive a thank-you call from the development coordinator within the same time frame.

A simple example: lapsed donors

To help you visualize what a good fundraising system looks like, here’s a very simple example of a lapsed donor reactivation system for a small nonprofit:

Action Deadline Responsibility

Pull lapsed donors from database 1st of each month Dev. Coordinator
Personal letter to lapsed donors >$1,000 in lifetime giving 10th of each month Dev. Director
Form letter to lapsed donors <$1,000 in lifetime giving 15th of each month Dev. Coordinator
Personal phone call to lapsed donors >$5,000 in lifetime giving 20th of each month Executive Director

As you can see, this is an extremely simple example. Even small nonprofits will want a more complex system for lapsed donor reengagement. But this example shows the power of a fundraising system: you don’t need to guess about how you are going to get your lapsed donors to start giving again. Instead, you know through trial and error what works for you, and you simply implement the system each and every month.

Every nonprofit can benefit from fundraising systemization

Fundraising systems are extremely powerful tools for nonprofits of all sizes and can be created for almost every task at your organization. My recommendation is that you start by creating systems around the four main phases of the donor lifecycle: prospecting, cultivation, stewardship, and asking. Then, branch out to each of your fundraising tactics. Systemizing your fundraising will allow you to do more with less and will result in more revenue and happier fundraisers at your nonprofit.

Reprinted from National Council of Nonprofits.


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