|Throughout my career I have had to
overcome three myths of fund-raising that would have me give up before I
My tools have been The
Nine Basic Truths of Fund-Raising.
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.
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."
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. As concepts are wrapped in bright
new language and claimed as fresh discoveries, 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 the 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
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
Basic Truth 2: Successful fund-raising
is not magic; it is simply hard work on the part of people who are
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,
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? I welcome your