What dirty tricks lie in wait for your fundraising behind these doors?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Halloween! And while I know that it’s celebrated differently and has different origins and meanings throughout the world (where it’s even celebrated at all), I’m here in the US, and here it’s a whole lot about trick-or-treating. So let’s knock on a few scary doors and see what tricks befall us. Maybe we can conjure up a few treats, as well.

Scary door No. 1: The “Stop Direct Mail Acquisition” Trick

This door, decorated for the holidays with dollar bills, is tempting – but knock at your own risk.

The costume: The disaster behind this door is dressed as a siren. So sexy. So alluring. Calling to you with the mellifluous promise of cost savings and black ink on the annual ledger. But that siren call can be one expensive song. Some organisations have given in and, in general, it doesn’t end well.

The candy: This is the house that gives out stale popcorn balls. They seem like a good idea, but it soon becomes apparent they’ll leave your mouth as dry as your donor funnel.

How to turn it into a treat: You can’t. Avoid this house altogether. If your acquisition has been historically based on direct mail, don’t stop direct-mail acquisition. Cut back, if you need to, in tough economic times Refocus, dig deeper into your files. Send out more compelling letters and more precise campaigns. But don’t wash your hands of those pesky, expensive acquisition efforts. If you do, the bone-chilling effects will haunt your database for years to come.

Scary door No. 2: The “Jumping into Social Media Unprepared” Trick

If you’re deep into your social media efforts – and, really, you should be; it’s 2017, after all – you might think this door was bricked over ages ago. Unfortunately, some organisations still come knocking, lured by the seemingly willy-nilly nature of social media. This sweet door is all soft edges and stardust, back-lit by the gentle glow of fireflies and unicorn smiles. Wait, is it even a door — or is it just a portal made of champagne, glitter and that stuff from inside a lava lamp? Whatever it is, behind it you might find an uninspired intern overseeing social media. Or a staff that’s been charged with “engaging” online but that doesn’t have a clue how to do that, really. You might even run into an executive director who’s totes on board with social media because – boy, howdy! – the organisation is going to raise a million dollars on “the Facebook” this year.

The costume: This disaster’s costume no doubt is a fairy, flitting from social site to social site, sprinkling random posts like golden dust that makes your fan base soar. But fairies are fickle, and that damn dust winds up in the darnedest of places. Once it does, it’s not easy to extract. And in the cold light of day it’s really no more magical than that fluffy combination of dead skin, dog fur, carpet bits and microscopic insects that you find under your bed.

The candy: This is the house that gives out Zotz from 1972. They’re pretty and sweet, then all of a sudden … an explosion of fizzy awfulness puckers your face and burns your nostrils from the inside.

How to turn it into a treat: Get a social media plan. Know who and where your intended audience is. Use social media to entice, engage, educate. Don’t make every post a pitch. If you want to make social media friends, you have to be a social media friend. Let go of the old hit-and-run mentality of donor messaging, and stick around to be part of the conversation. And get real: Paint a clear picture of how you’ll measure success. No, you (probably) won’t be raising a million dollars on Facebook this year. But you very well could increase your number of engaged followers by 100. Or you could aim to post a relevant video a week. Or craft sexy Twitter posts that lead people to your kick-ass, lovingly responsive home page. Outline some reasonable goals so you – and your boss and your team – know what to expect. And what to celebrate – even if it doesn’t result in an immediate influx of dollars.

Scary door No. 3: The “Walking Dead Board” Trick

This door is pretty dusty. Cobwebs galore. And what’s that smell?

The costume: This disaster is dressed as an army of the undead, trudging slowly toward… oh wait, those aren’t costumes. Those are your actual board members. They’ve not only gathered moss – they’ve grown roots.

The candy: The candy you get here is old Turkish Taffy. It looks brittle because it is brittle, and unyielding. And any snazzy flavor it might have had is long gone.

How to turn it into a treat: Fire those bad boys up! Bring someone your organisation has helped into your board meetings. Or bring in some volunteers who give of their time just because they care about your mission. Remind your board members what it is you do and why it matters and why they signed on in the first place.

And give them something to do, for Pete’s sake! But it has to be something they’re comfortable with. A lot of board members would rather dance with a demon than ask their high-powered pals for money. But can they host an ice-breaker? Make an introduction? Get on the phone and thank people? Of course they can. Your board members want to help – you just have to help them help you. And if they really, really don’t want to help…. well, let’s just say it might be time to think about what has to happen – what you have to do – to put in place the board that’s going to support your work in the way a board should and do right by your organisation and the people/causes it serves.

Scary door No. 4: The “Putting All Your Eggs into One Basket” Trick

Ohhhhh…. look at this door. It’s so green and so lush. It’s been here forever. It’s so, so comfortable. And so easy to open.

Until it’s not anymore.

The costume: Behind this door, the disaster is dressed as a guillotine. Because once the tried-and-true funding source – that evergreen, never-have-to-worry-about-it funding source – you’ve put all your financial eggs into is cut off, the cut is quick and decisive… and none too good for your organisation’s lifeline.

The candy: Pop Rocks. Remember those? And how they hurt? They were like rolling glass shards around in your mouth. This is a house of pain.

How to turn it into a treat: Diversify, of course. Don’t count on any one fuundraising channel, donor, foundation, partnership to be your organisation’s lifeline. Never fear the new conversations that could lead to great, new things and sweet sustainability.

What about that house at the end of your lane? What does that scary door look like? What will you find when you knock? And what can you do to turn any tricks that might be waiting there into treats?