Fundraising as a Journey

"Hiking" by Luke WisleyI recently read an article that argued that the “fundraising process itself, in particular, donor relationship building, is program building, and not just the means to an ends.”

This got me thinking that there are other activities besides fundraising that are insufficiently explored by us nonprofit professionals.

We so often get caught up in the final destination — completing a capital campaign, obtaining a top 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, or reaching 1,000 followers on Facebook — that we fail to take notice of the journey it takes to get there.  Unfortunately, this lack of awareness prevents us from learning how the processes of fundraising, measurement, and technology-implementation can create a more effective organization.

Two quick comments: (1) While I generally write TO my audience, as a fellow guilty party I thought I would address this piece to the WE and come along for the ride. (2) I decided that the best way to develop this idea would be in three parts. Fundraising is below, with Measurement and Technology to follow.


…to strengthen programs

The journey of fundraising can teach us how to create more effective programs, achieving greater impact. In the above article that inspired this piece, Gayle Gifford details seven ways that speaking to constituents and potential donors strengthening programs, thereby, helping accomplish this goal.  Some of the measures she mentions, include: getting feedback; seeing results from the field; confronting the quality and design of programs; and continuously testing the organization’s relevance.  Yes, the natural by-product of these actions is that a charity is better equipped to raise money in the future.  But more importantly, this process will help us increase the impact of our work, the true measure of a successful nonprofit.

…to friendraise

Along the path that leads to raising funds is the potentially greater opportunity of finding friends. Hildy Gottlieb argues that friends “share all their gifts with the organization…and yes, quite often, it is even money. But it is usually far more.” She is very careful to note that Friendraising (as she terms it) is not just another word for “relationship building.”  Traditional “relationships” still ask for money, just maybe not right away. In contrast, proper Friendraising leads to: the sharing of ownership; an engaged community; effective leadership and governance; more educated decisions at the board table; and, most importantly, a shifting of the focus from the scarce resource of money to the abundant strengths that everyone brings to the table.  And in today’s world, charities need be able to pull from a variety of disciplines to maximize its impact.

…to educate donors

Too often we are so focused on getting the check that we fail to educate our donors about the intricacies of giving and our organizations’ needs. Dan Palotta begs organizations to “stop giving donors what you think they want.”  Too often, he claims, in order to get the gift, nonprofits “dedicate the whole of their organization to telling them [donors] what they want to hear.”  Instead, organizations need to show courage and tell donors the truth.   After all, donors “cannot and should not be expected to have the same level of sophistication” about giving as people who dedicate their lives to the profession.

In one survey cited, 79% of donors said they wanted to know what percentage of their money went to the cause, while only 6% said they wanted to know if their donation made a difference.  (The latter, of course, being the crucial measuring stick.)  Palotta asserts that these strewed numbers are a result of donors who are suffering from “erroneous teachings” brought on by the sector’s thirst for capital.  By shifting the focus back to the process, we can educate donors how to give effectively and understand the complex needs our of charities.

…to remain relevant

Looking only at the donation, the end result, places the focus on the charity instead of the donor.  The number one way to remain relevant, however, is to concentrate on the real reasons why a donor chooses to help. Among the list of reasons, Jeff Brooks includes: personal significance; spiritual strength; assuaging guilt; comforting fear; proving that they are good people; feeling good; or for tax-deduction purposes.  Keeping this in mind allows the nonprofit to fundraise for what it needs while simultaneously appealing to what the donor needs.

Steve Yastrow once said that even the most dedicated of donors will only think about their favorite charity up to 10% of the day, while thinking about themselves over 90% of the day.  If a donor’s favorite charity can successfully have that individual donor associate himself completely with the brand, then the supporter will, essentially, be thinking about the charity EVERY time he thinks about him or herself — over 90% of the time. This is true relevance.

Note that all of these points are not contingent upon actually reaching a charity’s campaign goals (though that would be certainly be nice); thus, making the success or failure to achieve these fiscal objectives, ultimately, of second importance.

Up next:
Part Two – Measurement as a Journey
Part Three – Technology as a Journey

Tizku Lemitzvot,


Photo Credit: “Hiking” by Luke Wisley

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2 comments for “Fundraising as a Journey

  1. March 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    So True!! I look at marketing, in general, in the same way. Each campaign or tool needs to be focussed, but in the end they work together. Moreover, each effort can/should have additional side-benefits or side-effects, beyond the main, stated goal.

    • Shuey Fogel
      March 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment Jackie. With technology making the world a much smaller place, your approach is the right way to go.

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