When it comes to fund-raising, there are truths and myths. The truths illuminate the path to success. The myths speak with the dark voice of “conventional wisdom” of what can’t be done and won’t work. Throughout my career I have had to overcome three myths of fund-raising that would have me give up before I start. My tools have been The Nine Basic Truths of Fund-Raising.
Myth 1: Face it, fund-raising is impossible and the process is a mystery. Anyone who has failed at it or has managed to avoid being held accountable for that failure knows this.
Myth 2: Everybody knows you need a proven track record if you are to raise money. If you doubt it, just look at all the help-wanted ads for development officers that list as a qualification “successful history of managing a major annual campaign or soliciting large donations.”
Myth 3: It’s common knowledge that corporations and foundations give most of the money. Just ask those who have never done any fund-raising or who would find a contribution of $50 a strain on their budget.
Those three “beliefs” have helped doom many a fund-raising campaign. On the other hand, there are some insights about fund-raising that successful fund-raisers have gained. These insights often fly in the face of the myths of conventional wisdom. They offer no shortcuts. They promise no instant results. However, they are not hard to understand, and nearly anyone can profit from them. They are The Nine Basic Truths Of Fund-Raising.
The Truths, The Whole Truths,
And Nothing But The Truths
Sometimes in this world that showers us with new technology on what seems like an almost daily basis I think we can lose sight of the basics. It’s easy to get caught up in the newest tools and the hottest theories. It’s easy to forget that at its most basic, all fund-raising is an endeavor of people, trust, and mission. By our actions, we earn from people their trust that the money they give will be wisely used to carry out a mission they support.
To be sure, there are refinements and tweaks to this business of development that help ease the job of assuring a steady source of contributed income for our organizations. And yes, some approaches that worked 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, don’t deliver as well in the twenty-first century.
But the basics remain. Some things do not change. They are the bedrock upon which all fundraising efforts are anchored. They are the insights that have been gained through experience—through success and failure. These insights sometimes seem old fashioned to the gurus of leading-edge wisdom. They do not have the attractiveness of shortcuts and instant results. They do not offer a new paradigm. They are not the latest style. They are not quick fixes that can be employed to relieve the ever-increasing pressure to deliver more contributed income from fewer sources over shorter periods of time.
They are time-tested approaches. They are the basic truths that define successful fund-raising. And they are basic, not simply because they work, but because their absence yields failure. A development effort that ignores the basics dooms its organization to missed goals, shrinking income, and a spiral of diminishing possibilities.
When I talk to groups, the most important things I have to share from my more than three decades of fund-raising experience are The Nine Basic Truths of Fund-Raising. They come from hard-earned knowledge shared freely and enthusiastically with me by countless, gifted development professionals and volunteers over these many years.
Basic Truth 1: Organizations are not entitled to support; they must earn it.
No matter what an organization’s good works, it must prove to those who support it the value of those works to the community and the efficiency with which the organization delivers them. The primary key to fund-raising success is to have a first-class organization in every sense. There are no entitlements in the nonprofit world.
Basic Truth 2: Successful fund-raising is not magic; it is simply hard work on the part of people who are thoroughly prepared.
There are no magic wands, spells, or incantations. Whenever you hear that someone has the magic fund-raising touch, laugh. Otherwise, the joke is likely to be on you. No one pulls a rabbit—complete with its own lettuce farm—out of the fund-raising hat. No one!
Fund raising is simple in design and concept, but it is very hard work! It is planning, executing, and assessing. It is paying attention to detail. It is knowing your organization and what it needs. It is knowing who has the money, and how much they can give.
Basic Truth 3: Fund-raising is not raising money; it is raising friends.
People who don’t like you don’t give to you. People who know little about your organization give little at best. Only those people who know and like you will support you. Raise friends and you will raise money.
Basic Truth 4: You do not raise money by begging for it; you raise it by selling people on your organization.
No matter how good your organization, how valuable its services, how efficiently it delivers them, people will not give money unless they are convinced to do so. Fund-raisers function much as sales and marketing people do in the commercial world. So, be ready, willing, and able to “sell” your organization and the programs for which you are raising money.
Basic Truth 5: People do not just reach for their checkbooks and give money to an organization; they have to be asked to give.
No matter how well you sell people on your organization, no matter how much money they have, no matter how capable they are of giving it, they have to be asked to give. There comes a point when you have to ask for the money. And by the way, make sure that you are asking for a specific amount. Don’t leave it up to the donor to recommend how much to give. People with money to give are accustomed to being asked for it. The worst thing that will happen is that they will say no, and even then, they’re likely to be supportive, even apologetic.
Basic Truth 6: You don’t wait for the “right” moment to ask; you ask now.
If you are always looking for the right moment—the “perfect” time—to ask for the money, you will never find it. You have to be ready, willing, and able to close the solicitation at any time. You have to take the risk of hearing no.
If that happens, don’t take the rejection personally. They are saying no to the organization, not you. Once you have presented your case, ask for the money. Don’t wait. Either close the solicitation, find out what the objection to giving is and overcome it if possible, or get your turndown, and move on.
Basic Truth 7: Successful fund-raising officers do not ask for the money; they get others to ask for it.
The professional fund-raising officer is the last person who should ask prospects for money. The request should come from someone within the prospect’s peer group. It is the job of the professional development officer to design, put together, and manage the campaign. Volunteers who are themselves business executives, well-off individuals, community leaders, or board members, are the ones who should ask their counterparts for donations.
Basic Truth 8: You don’t decide today to raise money and then ask for it tomorrow; It takes time, patience, and planning to raise money.
Make the decision to initiate a fund-raising campaign before the need becomes dominant. It takes time to develop a campaign and its leadership. With each prospective donor the chances are you will get only one chance to present your case. Be prepared. If you present a poorly prepared case, you will be told no.
Basic Truth 9: Prospects and donors are not cash crops waiting to be harvested; treat them as you would customers in a business.
No successful businessperson deals with customers as if they had a responsibility to buy. Prospects and donors have to be courted as you would court a customer. They must be told how important they are, treated with courtesy and respect, and if you expect to do business with them again, thanked.
There are, of course, exceptions to each Basic Truth, but if you rely on the exceptions to support your organization, you will find them to be few and far between and dollars in short supply. In the end, we raise money from people who:
- Have it
- Can afford to give
- Are sold on the benefit of what we are doing
- Wouldn’t have given it to us unless we had asked
- Receive appreciation and respect for their gifts
It doesn’t take a genius to raise money. The process is a combination of common sense, hard work, preparation, courtesy, commitment, enthusiasm, understanding, and a belief in what you are asking others to support.
Those are The Nine Basic Truths of Fund-Raising, as I know them. Do they resonate with you?
Great article and replies! So much information in both.
Hi, I am just starting out. This is a great article. Where do I find qualified donors?
Before you go too far with commitment to expenses you must meet without the money to pay for them, I suggest you look again deep into your developing organization’s mission—its reason for being.
That is where you begin getting ideas for knowing those funding sources which would be your support base. Of course, you begin with your board of trustees, and you should have now on board as many as practicable, and that as many as possible of them have the best levels of giving their own money, getting money from others, and who are willing and able to recruit others they know as fund-raisers.
For nearly all non-profit organizations, there are two primary beneficiary groups:
— People who directly avail themselves of its services.
— A much larger grouping of people who, while they do not avail themselves of its services, nevertheless indirectly benefit because of what the organization does for the community.
Chances are that your organization will be serving a constituency which is unable to pay for your services, thus they would not be donors. So, you must look with your board to other sources.
Most new groups, in order to have time for developing paths to outside funders, have each board member commit personally to a set amount which each will seek to raise from any sources close to them.
When I was in that position before my development career began, as a board member of a new organization, each of us agreed to go out and raise an amount developed by dividing our number of fund-raisers into the amount needed to balance the books for that fiscal year.
Off we went, giving what we could of our own money, then asking family, friends, and owners of places we did business. (I received donations from my doctor, dentist, florist, dry cleaner, etc.) We all individually worked to our own goal to collectively meet the overall goal of the organization for the year.
Along with that productive activity, we were researching local granting foundations and corporations, learning who they were, what they gave to, how much they gave, and seeking to know of any personal or business links our board had with officials of the grantors. You can easily learn who those grantors are from the Foundation Center directory and from references in your local library—and the good old, and very effective, “word-of-mouth.”
As well, your team should work to gather annual reports and other of their publications from organizations similar to yours and review their listings of donors as potential donors to your particular cause.
These are but a few of the ways you must slog along to learn who cares about your organization and who could care. You cannot expect to get funding from distant and uncaring donors.
You find qualified donors only in those ways–working from the inside out.
Thank you for this informative article!
Very accurate, very refreshing! I have been researching fund raising for non profits now for some time and this is the best synopsis I have seen. Congratulations.
very nice , I have been motivated by the advice Thank u so much
Dorothea: If you are expanding your volunteer work as a result of expanding your organization’s programs, projects and services to those whom you serve, it could be that much sooner than later, you will need the experienced and capable services of your first-time, staff, development professional:
— When Should a Non-Profit Organization Hire its First Development Director?
From that article, thoughts usually go the following way:
— What’s a Good Director of Development Worth?
All-volunteer non-profits do abound, and many of them are successful with fund-raising to some degree, again, depending on the rate and speed of growth of the expense budget, to keep fund-raising up to the same speed so annual budgets are balanced.
However, often, volunteers cannot be so extended in the time and effort they must expend in the first place, and they are not usually skilled in the intricate, comprehensive, and demanding ways working fund-raising plans must be managed.
Reading my first article above should be a guide as to knowing if you can continue, or develop anew, the idea that your fund-raising needs can be satisfied with a volunteer fund-raising “officer.” Respectfully, I do have doubts.
In any event, volunteer or not, all you need to know about fund-raising and how to develop fund-raising plans and tools, are to be found right here on our website.
Is it possible to have a volunteer fund-raising officer? We have had moderate, but sporatic success so far with Basic Truths #3 and #4. We are expanding our volunteer work and thinking ahead as in Basic truth #8.
Informative , thanks 🙂
Donna: Dave’s response here, and with more to learn from his Micro-Giving article posted on this site, hopefully begins to answer your good question, and helps to relieve your relevant concern, regarding the possible intrusion of impersonal behavior and lack of sensitivity when it comes to asking for money through the emerging Social Media and other current methods. Of course, we must always be alert and sensitive to be polite, considerate and appreciative when we ask for money in any way, from texting to face-to-face.
As Dave said, and to which I soundly agree, such media are not meant to take the place of face-to-face. Rather, they are a way to reach those donors otherwise not reachable for smaller donations, at the times when the window of asking is so narrow and fleeting as to negate the other, conventional and traditional methods.
Looking to how your comment, regarding current society and its apparent more aggressive, and less personal, bearing on how we may ask for money, prompts my agreement with you from what I have come to know as a participant for many years in several Internet non-profit-related discussion groups, and from how the tone of emails sent to me personally have changed over the years. There have been continuing and serious breakdowns which I have seen over the past decade or so from individuals being uncivil, to others being simply thoughtless. Why have those tones evolved in those ways?
Coupling with what Dave said about the media being a method of “delivery,” I think the Internet in general is mainly a distribution vehicle. We may expect too much from it at times on the one hand. On the other, merely sitting at a keyboard and typing while peering into a monitor, does have its drawbacks when we are thus acting alone as it were.
Personal contact sets our social and personal behavior on a higher plane. Once removed, and contact is impersonal, impersonal instincts can surely take over. By its nature, the Internet sets the stage for that situation. That’s why we must be especially alert to be thoughtful as can be when it comes to asking for money in the rapid and concise ways we are now implementing with those “cutting edge” methods.
Internet speed, easy access, fast writing, instant sending capability, must be balanced by the users’ thoughtful style and substance, and always, with the conscious effort to prepare and read the messages we are sending to donors and prospects, just as we would want to receive such presentations when we are solicited for funds.
What you have outlined is basic common courtesy in the treatment of people. This abstract idea is missing in today’s society as it has changed from a “polite” society to a more aggressive one. I am wondering though with all the texting and social media replacing the face to face contact, what are your thoughts on how to request donations via social media or phone or text?
Media, whether they are newsletters, newspapers, televisions, or “social” are only media–the method of delivering the content. Direct mail is a medium through which organizations have asked for funds for years.
I have seen social media broken down, depending on who is doing the breaking down, into as many as 24 categories. These include websites like Facebook, email itself, and organization sponsored virtual events.
I say ask for money when and where it is appropriate for your organization and the type of ask it is making. I would not make a request for a donation of $100,000 anyway other than peer-to-peer in person. Would I ask you for a $10 or $50 contribution through email or over an independent social media site? You bet I would. But I would hope that the request-for-donation email wouldn’t be the first time I reached out to touch you via email.
I would not ask for any kind of contribution without having worked to nurture relationship with the potential donor. How would I have nurtured that relationship? In large part using media–social and otherwise. One of the neat things about social media is that they give people an opportunity to self nominate–to express their interest in an organization and its work. When they do that, they open the door for an organization to nurture relationship.
One final word about media, and this is a personal opinion: I would rather receive a request for a gift via email that snail mail and most definitely rather than in a phone call. An email request with proper links lets me act immediately on my impulse to give, if the organization has succeeded in touching me. Yes, I know a phone call does the same, but I would rather be left in control of the process via my keyboard and mouse than have to deal with someone working a telephone campaign. I find email less invasive than telephone calls.
I posted an article on micro and impulse giving on this site last month that examines the use of social media in the fundraising process. Between this response and that article, I hope I’ve answered your question at least in part.
Really its very very useful information to thank you sir
Thank you for the helpful information!!