The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits – A Review

The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits, Baker, Bullock, Gifford, Grow, Jacobwith, Pitman, Rees, Truhlar. The Nonprofit Academy (2014)  

Sometimes, small, local, and new nonprofits forget that every organization has to start with the basics in order to grow and prosper.

That is easy to forget in a world that is distracted by the latest new thing, and when every new tool promises to be the Holy Grail.

That’s why this book is so important.

The authors are experts who have been over this ground again and again. They know what works and what doesn’t. And they are generous with their advice, helpful charts, checklists, and examples.

One of the authors, Kirsten Bullock, says this in her chapter, “Don’t feel like you need to do everything – you’d just get overwhelmed. I’ve often heard people talk about the Crawl – Walk – Run philosophy. Basically it acknowledges that we all need to start somewhere.”

And that could be the motto of this book. There is a starting point for nonprofits, and they will neglect the steps toward success at their peril. Missing the crucial elements of building a healthy and viable organization can result in exhausted founders, flagging funds, and a discouraged board a few years down the line.

The Handbook provides many of those basic steps.

It starts with a chapter on vision and ends with major gift fundraising.  In between, are the steps towards viability:

putting together a great board of directors, stewarding donors, telling stories, growing awareness, finding and getting grant money, the elements of a good event, and tips for silent auctions.  Notice that there is not a chapter on Facebook, Pinterest, or Crowdfunding. That’s because those elements should come only after the basics are in place.

What are some of my favorite chapters from this book?

Gayle Gifford’s chapter on boards ranks very high for me. I think a good board that is supportive and generous with their time, contacts, and own resources sets the stage for just about everything a nonprofit ultimately does.

Gayle says that board members are not ATMs to be used for your pleasure. They are courageous leaders who help your organization be the best it can be. No one is going to give money to a low quality charity. Your competent board is the first step to being that charity that everyone loves and wants to support. Gayle provides a 12-point checklist to help you work better with your board.

Another favorite chapter is Pamela Grow’s on retaining your donors with a good stewardship program. She says that eight of 10 first-time donors do not make a second gift. Why? Because they are too often not treated well.  Pamela dwells at great length on how to thank your donors effectively, and for good reason. Gratitude will win the day when it comes to donor retention. That’s why she gives her “10 Essentials of a Perfect Thank You Letter” in her essay plus an actual template that you can adapt as your own.

I couldn’t put down Lori Jacobwith’s chapter on stories. That’s because if you don’t have a story and tell it well, your organization will not thrive. It’s as simple as that.  Lori explains “mission moments” and says, “Mission moments are often short, inspirational examples of your work….[They] put a face on what you do. They are stories and examples that can be repeated by others because they are not too long. They are inspiring….” Lori explains how to spot stories, collect them, and how to use open-ended questions to elicit them.

But, Marc Pitman’s chapter on major gifts is probably my absolute favorite. Afraid of asking for money? Marc has the cure. He acknowledges that most of us have a few money hang-ups, but he says, “It’s important to be aware of your own emotions around money. But your nonprofit needs you to get over it. So do the employees that will make their living in the nonprofit and especially the people it serves.”

Marc reveals how to get over your basic fears about asking for money and provides a simple formula for building your confidence.

I suspect the actual life of any small charity is very far from the din of advice fundraisers read online or hear at conferences. The Essential Fundraising Handbook leaves all that noise behind and just attends to the basics. 

These experts draw from their experiences in nonprofits similar to yours. They’ve been there, they know what it takes to make the wheels go around year after year for successful, small nonprofits. If you are a fundraiser in a small charity, I suggest you ignore the noise and go back to the basics.

Start with this book.