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The Ten Most
Important Things You Can Know
BY KIM KLEIN
Many times at the end of a training or a speech about
fundraising techniques and principles, I am asked,
"What are the most important things to remember?"
Usually the person asking is either a volunteer with little
time to help with fundraising, a person new to fundraising
and overwhelmed by the number of details she or he has
to keep in mind, or a staff person who is not responsible
for fundraising but wants to help.
Over the years, I have thought about what I consider the
ten most important things to know about fundraising. The
items are not presented in order of importance, although
#1 is probably the most important; nor are they in order
of difficulty. If there is any order, it is the order in which I
understood these things and integrated them into my own
fundraising work. Undoubtedly, other skilled fundraisers
would have slightly different lists, but this list has served
me well for many years. I hope you find it useful.
1. IF YOU WANT MONEY, YOU HAVE
TO ASK FOR IT
While there are some people (may their kind increase)
who will simply send an organization money or offer
money without being asked, there are not enough of
them to build a donor base around. Most people will not
think to give you money unless you make your needs
known. This is not because they are cheap or self-centered;
it is because most people have no idea how much it costs to
run a nonprofit, or how nonprofits get money. If you don't
ask them, they will simply assume you
are getting the money somewhere. They have no reason
to think your group needs money unless you tell them, the
same way they have no reason to know if you are hungry,
or unhappy, or needing advice.
Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity,
says, "I have tried raising money by asking for it, and by
not asking for it. I always got more by asking for it."
2. THANK BEFORE YOU BANK
Once you receive money, you must thank the person
who gave it to you. I have found that disciplining myself not
to deposit checks until I have written the thank-you notes
has forced me to make thank-you notes a priority. I am not
rigid about this rule because if I get behind in my thank-you
notes, and then don't deposit the checks for a while, the
donors may wonder whether we really needed the money.
Thank-you notes do not need to be fancy and should
not be long. If at all possible, they should include a personal
note, even if it is from someone who doesn't know the
donor. You can add something as simple as, "Hope to meet
you sometime," or "Check out our website," or "Happy
holidays," or even, "Thanks again - your gift really helps."
Many organizations have created note cards for staff
and volunteers to use when writing thank yous. The front
of the card has the logo of the group, on the top half of the
inside is a relevant meaningful quote from a famous person,
and the bottom half of the inside is used for the thank-you
message. It is a small space, so you really can't say much.
Many databases will print out a thank-you note after
you enter the information about the donor - saving
valuable time. These are best if accompanied by a personal
note at the bottom.
Late thank yous are better than no thank you at all,
but photocopied form thank yous are almost the same as
no thank you.
The long and the short of thank yous is: if you
don't have time to thank donors, you don't have time to
3. DONORS ARE NOT AUTOMATIC TELLER MACHINES
A survey of donors who gave away more than $5,000
a year asked, "What is your relationship with your favorite
group?" Several gave similar answers, even though they
did not know each other and did not give to the same
group. All the answers were on this theme: "I would love
to be considered a friend, but I am more of an ATM. They
come to me when they need money, they tell me how
much, I give it to them, and the next time I hear from
them is when they need more."
This is a terrible indictment of much of what passes
as fundraising. When I have described this common situation
in trainings, people have often asked, "How can we
make sure our donors don't feel this way?" The answer is
very simple, "Make sure you don't feel that way about
All groups have a few "high maintenance" donors, and
may be forgiven for wishing them to go on a long trip to a
place without phones or e-mail. But the majority of
donors require practically no attention. They have the
resilience of cacti - the slightest care makes them bloom.
Thank-you notes, easy-to-understand newsletters, and
occasional respectful requests for extra gifts will keep people
giving year in and year out.
Think of your donors as ambassadors for your group.
Design your materials so that donors will be proud to give
your newsletter to a friend or recommend your group
when their service club or professional association is looking
for an interesting speaker, or forward your e-mails to
several of their colleagues.
By treating your donors as whole people who have a
number of gifts to offer your group, including their financial
support, you will have more financial support from
existing donors, more fun fundraising, more donors, and
the peace of mind of knowing that you are not treating
anyone as an object.
4. MOST MONEY COMES FROM PEOPLE,
AND MOST OF THOSE PEOPLE ARE NOT RICH
There are three sources of funding for all the nonprofits
in the United States: earned income (such as products and
fees for service), government (public sector), and the
private sector, which includes foundations, corporations
and individuals. For the nearly 60 years that records about
who gives money away have been kept, at least 80% of this
money has been shown to be given by individuals.
In 2002, total giving by the private sector was almost
$241 billion, and 84.2 percent of that ($202 billion) was given
away by individuals! These people are all people - there is
no significant difference in giving patterns by age, race, or
gender. Income is not nearly the variable that one would
think: middle-class, working-class and poor people are
generous givers and account for a high percentage of the
money given away. In fact, a study by Arthur Blocks of the
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse
University showed that 19% of families living on welfare
give away an average of $72 a year!
Too often, people think they can't raise money
because they don't know any wealthy philanthropists. It is
a great comfort to find that the people we know, whoever
they are, are adequate to the task. Seven out of ten adults
give away money. Focus your work on these givers, and
help teach young people to become givers.
5. PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY NO
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on as a
fundraising trainer was not balancing my emphasis on the
need to ask for money with the reality that people are
going to say no. No one is obligated to support your group
- no matter what you have done for them, no matter
how wealthy they are, no matter how much they give to
other groups, how close a friend they are of the director,
or any other circumstance that makes it seem they would
be a likely giver.
While it is possible to guilt-trip, trick, or manipulate
someone into giving once, that will not work as a repeat
strategy. People avoid people who make them feel bad,
and they are attracted to people who make them feel
good. When you can make someone feel all right about
saying no, you keep the door open to a future yes, or to
that person referring someone else to your group.
People say no for all kinds of reasons: they don't have
extra money right now; they just gave to another group;
the don't give at the door, over the phone, by mail; a serious
crisis in their family is consuming all their emotional
energy; they are in a bad mood. Rarely does their refusal
have anything to do with you or your group. Sometimes
people say no because they have other priorities, or they
don't understand what your group does. Sometimes we
hear no when the person is just saying, "I need more time
to decide," or "I need more information," or "I have
misunderstood something you said."
So, first be clear that the person is saying no, and not
something else like, "Not now," or "I don't like special
events." Once you are certain that the person has said no,
accept it. Go on to your next prospect. If appropriate,
write the person a letter and thank them for the attention
they gave to your request. Then let it go. If you don't hear
no several times a week, you are not asking enough people.
6. TO BE GOOD AT FUNDRAISING,
CULTIVATE THREE TRAITS
A good fundraiser requires three character traits as
much as any set of skills. These traits are first, a belief in
the cause for which you are raising money and the ability to
maintain that belief during defeats, tedious tasks, and financial
insecurity; second, the ability to have high hopes and low
expectations, allowing you to be often pleased but rarely
disappointed; and third, faith in the basic goodness of people.
13 WWW.GRASSROOTSFUNDRAISING.ORG * 1-888-458-8588 * 3781 BROADWAY, OAKLAND,
While fundraising is certainly a profession, people who
will raise money for any kind of group are rarely effective.
Fundraising is a means to an end, a way to promote a cause, a
very necessary skill in achieving goals and fulfilling missions.
7. FUNDRAISING SHOULD NOT BE CONFUSED
WITH FUND CHASING, FUND SQUEEZING,
OR FUND HOARDING
Too often, organizations get confused about what
fundraising is and is not.
If you hear that a foundation is now funding XYZ
idea, and your organization has never done work in that
area nor have you ever wished to do work in that area, the
fact that you are well qualified to do such work is immaterial.
To apply for a grant just because the money is available
and not because the work will promote your mission
is called fund chasing. Many groups chase money all over
and, in doing so, move very far away from their mission.
Similarly, if your organization seems to be running
into a deficit situation, cutting items out of the budget may
be necessary but should not be confused with fundraising.
When deficits loom, the fund squeezing question is,
"How can we cut back on spending?"; the fundraising
question is "Where can we get even more money?"
Finally, putting money aside for a rainy day, or taking
money people have given you for annual operating and
program work and being able to put some of it into a
savings account is a good idea. Where savings becomes
hoarding, however, is when no occasion seems important
enough to warrant using the savings.
I know a number of groups that have cut whole staff
positions and program areas rather than let money sitting
in their savings be used to keep them going until more
money could be raised. I know groups that overstate what
they pay people, what price they pay for equipment, what
they spend on rent, all to get bigger grants from foundations
or larger gifts from individuals, and then put that
extra into savings - savings that they have no plan for.
A group that saves money needs to have a rationale:
Why are you saving this money? Under what circumstances
would you spend it? Without some plan in mind,
the group simply hoards money.
Fund chasing, fund squeezing, and fund hoarding
need to be replaced with an ethic that directs the group to
seek the money it needs, spend it wisely, and set some
aside for cash-flow emergencies or future work.
8. FUNDRAISING IS AN EXCHANGE - PEOPLE
PAY YOU TO DO WORK THEY CANNOT DO ALONE
Hank Rosso, founder of the Fund Raising School and
my mentor for many years, spoke often about the need to
eliminate the idea that fundraising was like begging.
Begging is when you ask for something you do not
deserve. If you are doing good work, then you deserve to
raise the money to do it. What you must do is figure out
how to articulate what you are doing so that the person
hearing it, if they share your values, will want to exchange
their money for your work. They will pay you to do work
they cannot do alone.
9. PEOPLE'S ANXIETIES ABOUT FUNDRAISING
STEM FROM THEIR ANXIETIES ABOUT MONEY
Anxiety about money is learned, and it can be
unlearned. If you are ever around children, you know that
they have no trouble asking for anything, especially money.
In fact, if you say no to a child's request for money, they
will simply ask again, or rephrase their request ("I'll only
spend it on books"), or offer an alternative ("How about if
I do the dishes, then will you give me the money?").
Everything we think and feel about money we have
been taught. None of it is natural; none of it is genetic.
In fact, in many countries around the world, people talk
easily about money. They discuss what they earn, how
much they paid for things, and it is not considered rude to
ask others about salaries and costs.
We have been taught not to talk about money or to
ask for it, except under very limited circumstances. Many
of us are taught that money is a private affair. Having too
little or too much can be a source of shame and embarrassment,
yet money is also a source of status and power.
Most people would like to have more money, yet most will
also admit that money doesn't buy happiness.
As adults, we have the right - in fact, the obligation
- to examine the ideas we were taught as children to
ensure that they are accurate and that they promote values
we want to live by as adults. Most of us have changed
our thinking about sex and sexuality, about race, about
age, illness and disability, about religion, about marriage,
about how children should be raised, what foods are
healthy, and much more. We have done this as we have
learned more, as we have experienced more, or, as we
have thought about what we value and what we do not.
We need to take the time to do the same work with our
attitudes toward money. We can choose attitudes that
make sense and that promote our health and well-being.
Our attitudes toward fundraising are a subset of our
larger attitudes toward money. The most important
change we can make in our attitudes toward fundraising is
to remember that success in fundraising is defined by how
many people you ask rather than how much money you
raise. This is because some people are going to say no,
which has got to be all right with you. The more people
you ask, the more yes answers you will eventually get.
Finally, if you are anxious about asking for money or
would rather not ask, this is normal. But ask yourself if what
you believe in is bigger than what you are anxious about.
Keep focused on your commitment to the cause and that
will propel you past your doubts, fears, and anxieties.
10. THERE ARE FOUR STEPS TO FUNDRAISING-
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN, AND WORK YOUR PLAN
Though humorous, this formula that I learned from a
community organizer underscores the fact that fundraising
is three parts planning for one part doing. I learned this later
in my career, after having gone off half-cocked into many
fundraising campaigns and programs. I meant to plan, I
planned to make a plan, I just never got around to planning.
I have learned (usually the hard way) that an hour of
planning can save five hours of work, leaving much more
time both to plan and to work. Planning also avoids that
awful feeling of "How can I ever get everything done,"
and that sense of impending doom. It moves us out of
crisis mentality and means that we are going to be a lot
easier for our co-workers to get along with.
There are a lot of articles and books on planning -
I recommend reading some of them. However, the easiest
way I have found to plan something is to start by defining
the end result you want and when you want it to happen,
then work backwards from that point to the present. For
example, if you want your organization to have 100 new
members by the end of next year and you are going to use
house parties as your primary acquisition strategy, you
will need to schedule five to seven house parties that will
recruit 10 to 15 members per party.
To set up one house party will require asking three
people to host it (only one will accept), which will require
identifying 15 or 20 possible hosts to carry out the number
of house parties you want to have. The hosts will want to
see materials and know what help they will have from you.
The materials will have to be ready before the first
phone call is made to the first potential host, and the first
phone call needs to occur at least two months before the
first party. So, the materials need to be produced in the
next two weeks, hosts identified in a similar timeframe,
calls made over a period of two or three months, and so on.
When you are tempted to skip planning, or to postpone
planning until you "have some time," or to fly by the
seat of your pants, just remember the Buddhist saying,
"We have so little time, we must proceed very slowly."