catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 14 :: 2013.07.05 — 2013.07.18


Fundraising 101

I have spent most of my near-forty career years in non-profits. That translates to nearly forty years of fundraising. I have been a part of everything from nickel and dime begging to multi-million dollar organizational relocation, from passing the plate to pledges, from campaigns to coffee and lunch meetings, from banquets to car washes. I’ve been a staff member, board member and donor for more organizations than I can list or remember without extensive brain stretching.

At one point I was hired to help an organization with a focused, short-term funding project. In a few months we outraised our goal. Guess what? Some people thought I was a fundraising genius — not a perception I was anxious to live up to.

In my last long-term staff role, I was an executive director of a local ministry. As the ED, I was responsible for overseeing and implementing the needed fundraising for the daily and ongoing needs. Through varied methods we were able to keep things balanced. There were a few tough stretches, but for the most part we paid salaries, bills and kept a cushion in the bank. Often when people would ask about fundraising I’d say, “I want to be good enough at it to keep things together, but not so good that they want me to do it all the time.”  My experience is that most people who are in positions that require them to raise money for organizations would rather be doing something else — not another job, just not the fundraising part.

The current buzz is to talk about sustainable funding, which is really nothing new. Twenty years ago we didn’t sit around and say, “Hey, let’s set up a funding system that will evaporate in a few years and leave the next set of leaders floundering.”

I now focus my time as a consultant and coach. I help people and organizations, and one of the things I help with is fundraising. True confession: I prefer helping others do fundraising than having the primary responsibility.

When all is said and done, fundraising is about trust. Do people trust the person who is representative of an organization enough to give their money for support?  There are numerous techniques and programs that can be implemented to raise money. If you are a financial mercenary, you can follow the P. T Barnum approach: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Find enough suckers and you stay in business. Best case, it’s a two way street. People who are doing fundraising need to be ethical, honest, trustworthy and sincere, seeking the best for all involved. These kinds of fundraiser view donors as partners in the ongoing life of the organization.

The ideal is for donors to be responsible in vetting organizations before jumping in — to build a relationship with the program and the people. Check out the Donor’s Bill of Rights from the Association of Fundraising Professionals for help in researching organizations.

The reality is that there are many ways to raise money, many people who want our money and many organizations that we can be involved with (and give to). The stories of non-profit financial abuse are many and the results of broken trust tragic. If you are responsible as a fundraiser, do a self-evaluation. If you are not the right kind of person, get out of the role. Save the organization and yourself the grief of the damage you may do.

If you are a donor, be wise. If you are better informed, you can have the deeper satisfaction of being a part of an organization that is doing work that matches your commitments, values and passions.  The best fundraising and giving grows out of open, honest relationships of trust and respect.

May God have mercy on us all.

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