A Few Essential Truths About Fundraising

A few weeks back, in the late-night last hours of writing up a fundraising strategy for a client — after having gone back and forth with staff and executives, and earlier in the week with board members of another client — I posted a quick, hot note on LinkedIn:

Thinking of drawing up a fresh list of really essential principles of nonprofit fundraising for seasoned professionals who just haven’t done a lot of it…

Item 1: Leonardo DiCaprio is not a fundraising strategy. (That’s fantasy, unless you know him. Do your own work by starting with who you know and who cares about your cause already).

Item 2: Galas are for fun, not for fundraising. (After all the staff and volunteer time and expense, almost never leaves much margin.)

Item 3: We write grant proposals, not grants. And you have to write more than you can reasonably expect to get. (These things take time and work to think up well and then to write well. There are no guarantees).

Item 4: All the methods cost you something. Which. Is. OK. (It costs time and money to raise money).

Item 5: With diversity and sufficiency, funding partners are just that — partners. Not dictators of what you do. (You’re entering into a deal, an exchange, and you have the power to make it fair).

I have been meaning to get back to these and explain each point, and I just now inserted the parenthetical notes. But honestly, it’s taken me a while to work up the energy. It’s tiring to to introduce and insist on operating principles that those of us who have done this work for going on three decades have come to know is true. And no, new fundraising methods (hello, crowdfunding) do not change the principles.

The thing is, nonprofit fundraising is a relatively specialized area of work. Anyone can learn to do it — and there are lots of ways to contribute. But it takes a pause for perspective, a few industry particulars on the art and science, and then a willingness and courage to try new stuff.

There are a few more principles, like Item 6. Open your own wallet first, FFS. (If you don’t value the  work and organization, what business do you have asking someone else to pay for it?). Item 7…, well, I could go on, but gotta run.

Rather than rant, I prefer invest my energy in doing the work, raising money, and showing smart, passionate folks who simply haven’t done much of it before, how to do it.