Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members, and volunteers, with thousands of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.
If your job description doesn’t include the words fundraising, development, or advancement, then why should you care about any of these things?
Let’s start with a fundamental employment truth: the closer you are to successful revenue generation, the less vulnerable your position. While this may sound like something straight out of a business playbook, it’s actually very relevant in the nonprofit sphere.
It’s important that any nonprofit focus on revenue generation almost as much as it does on client service. After all, there will be no client service without the money to pay for it, even if your nonprofit is an all-volunteer organization. As the saying goes: no money, no mission.
In this article, I will talk about how you can support your organization’s charitable gift efforts.
And I can hear you now: “I just don’t like fundraising. It doesn’t make me feel good and I’m not very good at it.”
There’s no doubt that most people are uncomfortable with fundraising. It’s right up there with public speaking. That’s because most people focus on the actual solicitation, and not everything else that’s involved in fundraising.
Getting Starting with the Fundraising Process
Try this exercise. Get a clock that counts seconds, like your watch or cell phone. Then time how long it takes you to say the following words, “Can you help us with a gift of $100?” I can’t imagine it took more than three seconds.
The problem is that most people throw out an entire process leading up to those three seconds, and an equally important process after. Why? Their discomfort with those three seconds!
The good news is that fundraising is much more than those three seconds. In fact, fundraising isn’t about the money at all. It’s about two things: relationships and mission.
Focus on Relationships and Your Mission
Any professional fundraiser will tell you that asking for money really isn’t about the money. Asking for money is about the mission. In most cases, a donor’s first interest is not in the financial aspects of the charitable gift transaction.
Yes, many donors want to take all the advantage they can from the tax codes for their charitable gift, but studies show the tax advantage is rarely the primary motivation for a charitable gift. The primary motivation is usually an interest in the mission of your organization.
Therefore, a good fundraiser knows never to lead with the gift, but to talk about the mission and to better understand the donor’s motivation for a charitable gift. Once the donor is committed to the mission, then a discussion can occur about how they can support the mission financially.
You might counter this by saying that the donors you know only give because they’ve been asked by somebody they know who pressured them into making a gift. That certainly occurs. In that case, the person who is asking cares about the mission. But it also speaks to the importance of the next key factor in charitable gift solicitation: the relationship.
There’s an old saying that goes “not every relationship leads to a gift, but every gift starts with a relationship.” Maybe the most important role most nonprofit staff can play in the fundraising process is that of a relationship builder – based, of course, on the mission.
This is good news. The stronger the relationship with the donor, the more likely the donor will make a gift. In other words, if the donor really loves your mission, and you have a strong relationship with a donor that’s built on trust and respect, you can probably count on that donor to do everything they can to help your mission succeed.
That includes making a gift that is significant in proportion to their means.
Just to be clear, this isn’t about hoodwinking grandma and taking her for all she’s worth! Ethical charitable gift fundraisers look after the needs of their donors as well as the needs of their nonprofit.
But the fact is that most people give much less than they could for a wide variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t have a relationship of trust with the organization. Maybe they really aren’t committed to the mission. Or maybe (and this is very common) they’ve never been asked.
In fact, the best fundraising is about meeting the needs of the donor through the mission of your nonprofit. The best example of this is when, after making a gift that they never imagined, a donor will say “wow, I never thought that giving would make me feel so good!”
How to Start Supporting Your Organization’s Fundraising
The best way to start is to do what you might think is the most painful: making your own gift. You may have thought we were talking about giving your time, not your money. But it’s important to give both.
You are in a much stronger position to support any effort for charitable giving if you can say with a straight face that you have done the same. And believe me, the question comes up with donors more than you’d think. Even if you are doing something like giving a tour, a donor might ask if you gave so they can gauge their level of commitment to a project. Your donation need not be the same amount as your prospective donor; you just need to have contributed something too.
How to Support Fundraising After Your Gift
What’s your specific job after you’ve made your gift?
It’s important that you be available to talk about your organization’s mission and build a relationship with the donor that is based on honesty and trust for what you do. However, it’s also important that this relationship is not based on you.
What do I mean by “not based on you?” Charitable gift fundraising is not an exercise in personality promotion. It’s important to connect the donor with the mission first. You are just a conduit to their interest in the mission. First and foremost, that mission is about who you serve.
Your role, and the executive director’s role, and even the development officer’s role is to make sure that the donor has a relationship to your organization’s purpose, not your organization’s people.
By the way, while we’re talking about roles, let’s briefly discuss the role of a fundraiser, or, as they might be known in your organization, a development officer. It may surprise you to learn that the role of a fundraiser isn’t always to ask for money. The role of the fundraiser is to get other people asking for money.
Think of this comparison. The fundraiser is akin to the director of a play. The director tells the actors what to do, where to stand, and how to deliver the script. Those actors may be board members, volunteers, or another staff member, especially the executive director.
In this theater, does the director sometimes take a part on the stage? Definitely. But they are much more effective when they work through other people who can tell the story, build relationships with the donors, and connect those donors to your mission.
Defining Your Fundraising Role
So, your role? The actor.
Sometimes you may be cast as a secondary player, and other times tapped to be the star of the show. It really depends on what the best way is to build relationships and commitment to the mission that will lead to a gift.
What are some of the things you may be asked to do?
- Write articles, blogs, and other material explaining your role in your mission
- Give tours of your site or what you do to support your nonprofit’s mission
- Identify people who may be interested in supporting your mission
- Run an event that showcases your mission
- Attend an event as a representative of your nonprofit
- Make a thank you call or send a thank you note after a gift is made
- Write a report on the use of funds that support your mission
- Have lunch or breakfast with someone who is considering making a gift
- Invite a donor to give their thoughts on who else may have an interest in your mission
- Ask the donor for their charitable gift support (Okay, I had to slip that one in!)
This is just a sampling. The point is that there are lots of things you can do to support the fundraising process without being an official “fundraiser.”
Benefits of Supporting Fundraising
So, back to where we started. How does all of this help your nonprofit, and you?
For your nonprofit …
- Donors want to hear from the people who do the mission’s work
- You, as an expert in what you do, lend credibility to the mission of your nonprofit
- Your help allows the development officer to organize more solicitations – which leads to more gifts and strengthens your entire nonprofit
For you …
- You and your work become more visible to others in your organization
- The area you serve within your mission – whether that’s a program or department – gets exposure, and with that, internal and external advocates
- You’ll meet some very interesting people and have some fun diversion from your daily routine
- Your experience in aiding revenue generation will make you a more valuable person in the organization. Back to that theater analogy. Who is more valuable to a theater? An extra in a play or an actor who can sing and dance?
Now, sing, dance, and have fun by sustaining your nonprofit’s mission and your own career with your support of fundraising!
If you’re ready to learn more about fundraising, then why not check out Navigating the Unknown. The data from our nationwide survey of donors and nonprofits can help you plan a fundraising future for your nonprofit with confidence.
And if you want to learn more about how learning about fundraising can help boost your career, sign up for Matt’s webinar on June 17th!