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Six Things I Wish I Had Known at the Beginning of My Fundraising Career

Resource Center - Foundation

By Andrea McManus, CFRE

npmanagement225x300This article is an excerpt from the book Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals, edited by Darian Rodriguez Heyman. This was adapted from a chapter of that book written by AFP Chair Andrea McManus, CFRE, president of The Development Group in Calgary, Alberta.

(May 24, 2011) Here are six basic fundraising principles that I believe are fundamental to philanthropic giving and fund development.

1.   People give to people. People are motivated to give for a variety of reasons.

  • They or someone close to them has been touched by a specific cause, i.e., a family member has cancer, a child with a disability, graduated from a particular college. For fundraisers, this means that if you don't know why people give it is very difficult to understand what will interest a particular donor or group in your mission, or what will motivate them to make a gift. Take the time to identify what interests particular donors in your organization specifically.
  • People don't give to organizations, they give to the people your mission serves. For fundraisers, this means don't talk about how great your organization is, talk about the change you make in people's lives and in the community. Link them directly to your mission.
  • People give because they are asked and if you don't ask, the answer will always be "no."
  • For fundraisers, this means don't make the mistake of not asking because "you think they will know what you want." Make sure your staff, your board members, and your volunteers make direct and specific asks.
  • People give to help, to build, to change, to care for, or to invest. They don't make a decision to give because of a tax receipt; however, this can determine the size of some gifts.

2.   Much comes from few. The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, can be applied to just about anything: 20 percent of the people in a business make 80 percent of the decisions; 20 percent of the work consumes 80 percent of your time; and so on. A successful fund development program will receive 80 percent of its donations from 20 percent of its donors. This is true pretty much across the broad spectrum of any fund development program. Follow the 80/20 rule when making strategic decisions on how and where to spend your time and money. For example, don't send out a mass mailing to 70-80 potential corporate prospects! Take the time to identify the top 10 who have some alignment with your mission and organization and put 80 percent of your time there, leaving 20 percent for the other 60-70.

3.   Wealth is not always obvious nor is it necessarily interested in your cause. Too many organizations spend too much time trying to secure donations from the "usual suspects," i.e., the high-profile community leaders who do good works for many organizations. The same ones every other organization in your community is pursuing. You need to take a broader view that includes the many individuals with less, or less obvious, wealth who still have the means and the interest to support your organization, and the businesses that may not be the corporate leaders but still have a strong sense of community. The challenge for you is to identify your potential donors and leaders and then "find a way to approach them. Therefore, challenge your definition of "wealth" and the way others, particularly your board members, perceive it. A person doesn't have to have gazillions of dollars to be generous. Wealth is relative.

4.   It's not about the money--it's about building the relationship. Donors are your friends and they play a large and vitally important role in your organization. They contribute to you because they believe in your mission. Getting to know and understand your donors, being "donor-centric," is important, not just to get that "first gift, but to get the next one after that and the next one after that. Today's donors are smart and savvy and you should expect that they have checked you out. Thoroughly. You need to be smart and savvy as well. Get to know them, engage them, listen to them. Don't waste their time and they won't waste yours.

5.   Fundraising is not a stand-alone activity. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to treat fundraising as if it operates in a silo, separate and distinct from everything else that happens in your organization. In order to be successful in reaching your fundraising goals be sure to

  • Work in synergy and collaboration with strategic planning. Fundraising is very likely a key part of achieving your goals. Therefore, include fundraising in the strategic planning process from the beginning and use it to inform the environmental scanning process. And before your organization launches that new program, ask "Can we fund this?"
  • Recognize governance responsibility. One of the board's primary responsibilities is your organization's "financial health. If fundraising is a revenue source, then it is part of your "financial health and sustainability. Engage the board in fundraising planning.
  • Involve everyone in the many different aspects of raising money--prospect identification, information gathering, cultivating and building relationships, opening doors, thanking, and stewarding. Asking is just one small piece. There are lots of tasks for everyone to do. Take a frontline worker or a board member on a call and let them speak passionately about why they do what they do and what difference their work makes.

6.   Philanthropy is something to be proud of, and fundraising exists to enable philanthropy. Philanthropy is often defined as "the gift of time, talent and resources" or in the dictionary as "love of humankind." People who give to your organization do so because they believe in your mission. They are proud of their act of giving and consider it a privilege to be able to help change conditions through the work of your organization. Be proud of the work you do to help philanthropists as they use their resources to help others.

This article is adapted from the book Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals (2011 Jossey-Bass). Reprinted with permission. Each chapter is written by a different nonprofit leader on topics ranging from leadership and human resources to fundraising, marketing and technology. This book is available in the AFP Bookstore.

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