Alright, so your major fundraiser event is over. Your self-imposed deadline has come and gone. Now comes the part when you add all the donations up, subtract your expenses, and find out if you met your goal.

Hopefully, you have not only met your goal, but you have wildly exceeded it. However, that isn’t always the case, is it? Sometimes you launch a campaign, and it flops. The imagination of your audience is not captured, and as a result, they didn’t give in either the depth or the breadth that you had hoped.

So, what do you do next?

First, you need to decide if you want to do anything at all. I mean, it’s possible to just ignore the shortfall. You could do the best with the money you did raise and then just move on to something else. Perhaps none of your donors would follow up with questions or concerns about the way their money was used. Maybe nobody will inquire as to whether you hit your target amount. You could get lucky like that.

But, I’m guessing that’s not going to be an option for you.

If you are actually spending time reading this blog, then you are probably committed to your own organization and will want to do things right, even in difficult situations like not meeting your fundraising goal.

Ok, so here are the things I would do if I ran a fundraiser that fell short of the goal my organization had set for it.

Looking Toward the Board

The first thing I’d do is gather my board of directors and tell them everything. I would present to them the amount we did raise and tell them how far short we fell of the goal. I would lay out exactly what we did to raise that money. I’d show them copies of all the communications I sent out during the campaign and share with them any feedback I gathered during the process from employees, volunteers, and donors. I’d also briefly let them know about any other fundraisers in the community that ran at the same time as ours and which may have had a negative impact on our ability to hit our target. The board has to have a complete picture of why the goal was not met in order to figure out a solution.

Your First Ask

Once I had put all this information out there for them to digest, I would ask each one of them to consider adding to their own donations. I know this can be a sensitive topic, but board members are expected to lead their community in financial contributions. Not every board member will be able to do this at a high level, of course, but I think the board should be the first group of people you approach.

Hosting a Power Meeting

After the board members have added to their personal donations, I would talk about them hosting an intimate gathering with specifically invited guests, on whom they can put the squeeze. Again, this is a responsibility of the board members- to use their personal and professional networks to raise money for your non-profit. If a board member is squeamish about giving money him or herself or asking friends for money, then he or she shouldn’t be on the board.

This intimate gathering could be something as simple as a dinner at a board member’s house. I’ve actually held one in a small room at a local country club. The people who are invited to this “party” will know that they should come prepared to write a check.

At the gathering, I (the executive director) would make a passionate case for the purpose behind the fundraiser. I’d really “sell” the mission. However, the responsibility for making the ask should fall to the board members who made the invitations. Some, or maybe all, of the people in attendance may have already given to this fundraiser, so I’d have to be ready with a very good explanation as to why I didn’t reach our goal in the time allotted. I don’t necessarily think this will be a turn-off for the donors, as long as I can tell them I understand what happened and now have a plan to fix it.

One possible strategy to employ at this meeting would be to ask the guests to offer a matching gift that can be leveraged with the community at large. From my experience, many wealthier individuals like the idea of inspiring others to give, which a matching grant does.

An aside- If you are going to go to this length, it should go without saying that this must have been a pretty important fundraiser. In my mind, this would be one of, if not the, most important fundraiser of your year. For the purposes of this article, I wouldn’t think that you’d go to this trouble if you were just trying to raise a thousand dollars for equipment or something. I just wanted to make that clear.

The Next Step: Taking It to the Streets

If, after I’ve asked the board members and their friends for their “enhanced” donations, I am still short of my goal, it’s time to go public.

The first piece of advice I’d offer in this regard is to make sure you are clear that you are trying to cover a shortcoming from your fundraising campaign that just ended. It would not be wise to suddenly throw a new fundraiser out there and not explain that it’s part of the same goal you were just working on. That could be very confusing to potential donors. They would scratch their heads and ask, “Didn’t I just write a check to them?” I would much rather admit that we didn’t meet our goal than to drop an unexpected fundraising bomb on their heads right after we just wrapped one up. Therefore, in everything you say and do, be sure to link this follow up to your unsuccessful campaign.

Honesty is the Best Policy

In addition to being honest that the goal wasn’t reached, I would be very plain in telling people the amount you still need to raise. The community deserves to know what they are being asked for. This would also be the right time to introduce the matching grant that you hopefully secured at the board of director’s gathering.

I would start by putting all this information into a well-crafted solicitation letter that would be sent, along with a donation envelope, to my entire mailing list. Time is of the essence with this letter. I would not want too much time to pass between the end of the fundraiser and this follow-up letter. Any delay will be perceived as a lack of urgency on the organization’s part by potential donors. It will dramatically lessen the impact of the ask.

In the letter itself, I would focus not so much on the fact that the fundraiser was unsuccessful, but rather I would put an enthusiastic spin on the matching grant, if I had it. Even if I didn’t have the matching grant, I’d write the letter with a grand sense of optimism and celebrate the opportunity for the community to rally together and do something special. I think it would be appropriate to have a greater than normal sense of urgency in this letter. The organization’s back truly is against the wall. It’s ok to “fight” to meet your need.

I would also take this impassioned plea to the electronic side of our organization- mass emails, Facebook, Twitter- any way that the audience would see and respond to. I would also make sure that my website had a large “Donate Now” button prominently displayed on it that linked to a working PayPal account.


As you can tell, I am of the mind to be very direct in this situation. If you fall short in the amount you need to raise, it is my opinion that you should just go out and ask for more. I don’t think you should suddenly plan a car wash or decide to sell some sort of product to cover the deficit.

My experience and my pre-disposition tells me that this honest, straight-forward approach will work. I think that people will respond to your need, as long as you show that you are being a careful steward of the organization and that you tell your story with passion, enthusiasm, and vision.

What do you think? What would you do if your organization didn’t meet an important fundraising goal? I’d love to read your suggestions. Please share them in our comments section!

Photo by: jeffk

Posted on 13 January 2011

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