If you’re constantly encountering people on your staff or board who want to curtail your fundraising efforts, you’re not alone.
Generally, people hate fundraising. It’s an “F” word.
And folk can get creative telling you why it’s an “F” word; hence, something to be avoided.
I call these creative explanations, at best, half-truths.
“Beware of a half truth. It may be the wrong half.” – Danish proverb
I use this cautionary proverb a lot.
It fits a lot of circumstances. Half-truths, myths, “common wisdom,” and crowd-sourced beliefs all have the “ring” of truth; this ring, like all bells and whistles, can be distracting. Beware: the core of the matter can get overlooked and/or distorted.
What can you do to avoid basing your fundraising strategy on a lie?
How to Kill Persistent Fundraising Myths
I too often come across six fundraising myths – lies and half-truths — in my work with nonprofits. These myths exist because the word fundraising leads with “fund.” Fund means money. Many scholars argue money is the number one social taboo in America (see also Krueger, The Last Taboo). Even religion, sex and politics are better discussion topics as far as most of us are concerned. We’re brought up to believe it isn’t “nice” or “anyone’s business.”
The 6 Greatest Nonprofit Fundraising Myths
1. It’s mostly about money.
The real secret of donor-centric philanthropy is there’s no money involved. Well, almost none. When you fundraise effectively it’s about impact. Work made possible because of donors’ gifts.
No one is going to invest with you simply because you ask for money. It’s what the money makes possible that matters; this is what you lead with.
When you fundraise effectively you tell stories about problems solved and dreams come true.
You don’t lead with price tags. You open people’s eyes to possibilities they may not have imagined, and opportunities to be a part of something larger than themselves.
People are in constant search for meaning and purpose; effective fundraising offers this opportunity.
2. It’s begging.
Where money is concerned, we tend to come from a place of “don’t go there.” When we ask people for money, we often feel like beggars. Maybe if we had to ask, we would. But, at best, this seems “a necessary evil.”
Asking for philanthropic support can actually be the opposite of evil. Not just for your organization, but also for your donor. Fundraising is not about money; as a servant to philanthropy, it’s really about love. As one of my fundraising mentors and founder of The Fundraising School, Hank Rosso, said: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”
Fundraising “isn’t a simple process of begging — it’s a process of transferring the importance of the project to the donor.”
— Hank Rosso
Always remember: you aren’t asking for yourself!
3. It’s taking, not giving.
Good fundraising is about giving; coming from a place of love. Experience, and reports from donors who participate in Cygnus Research’s annual donor survey across Canada and the U.S., belies the myth. When fundraising is done right, donors consistently report feeling they get more out of the philanthropic exchange than they put in.
Turn this myth on its head and see yourself in the role of giver.
What you give is opportunity to get donor needs met.
- To make a difference.
- To make an impact on an issue the donor cares about.
- To join a community of like-minded individuals.
- To find purpose and meaning.
- To enact a cherished value.
- To pay back a debt owed.
- To love one’s reflection in the mirror.
- To experience a “warm glow” jolt of dopamine.
The value of the opportunity you deliver will vary from donor to donor. If you’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs you know people have varied needs over different phases in their lives. Needs for community, belonging, self-actualization, and other kinds of purpose. The more you listen to donors, and endeavor to learn what floats their particular boat, the better you can tailor your ask to elicit a response that will give your donor the biggest value payoff possible.
4. It’s not the business we’re in.
You’re in the business of making the world a better place, right? To do this requires programs, of course. But those programs cost money. To stay in business requires some combination of earned income and philanthropy.
Securing philanthropic investment is therefore part and parcel of your business. This requires what we’ve come to call “development,” essentially the process of uncovering folks who share your passion for your cause. You then must do a fair amount of wooing. But you can’t just be wooing.
There’s an end in sight, right? And it’s not just you who wants to get there. Your donors want to get there too. They want to be part of your business of making the world a better place, in whatever way you do it. In fact, arguably the most donor-centric thing you can do is ask for a gift.
Donors can’t get where they want to go without you.
5. It’s expensive, and we need to keep overhead down.
The “overhead myth” is one of the biggest myths of all. It is the enemy of growth, stopping progress dead in its tracks. If you want to cripple your cause, you’ll continue to adhere to the starvation mentality that inhibits success. For-profit business know they must invest back in their business to thrive. The same holds true for social benefit businesses.
Rethink your approach. Instead of equating frugality with morality, start placing greater value on big goals and big accomplishments. Even if that comes with big expenses.
Don’t reward yourself for how little you spend, but for how much you get done.
6. If we could get one big funder, we could be done.
This is a BIG “if.” It’s mostly an excuse for not fundraising. Often it comes from board members who think it would be smart to simply approach Bill Gates, Elon Musk, MacKenzie Scott or some rich techie or celebrity for a gift. Why not? It would be chump change for them, right?
The problem with this is these folks are not chumps. They’re most certainly not your chumps. Most of the time they have only one of the essential pre-conditions for being a donor to your cause – capacity; they’ve no real linkage and often no demonstrated interest. Even if you could interest such a prospect in a gift, it’s a risky proposition. The proverbial “putting all your eggs in one basket.” When it goes away (and it will), you’re left high and dry.
Beware also of the often board-delivered “great idea” of simply hosting a big fundraising event to raise all your money. Events are among the least cost-effective fundraising strategies, generally costing 50 cents on the dollar on a good day. When you really account for all the time involved, not to mention the lost opportunity cost, they barely break even.
Relying on a single source of funding is not sustainable.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Fundraising is noble and good. Fundraisers, aka “philanthropy facilitators,” are the catalysts who make change happen. That’s the truth.
If your organization refuses to debunk any of these nonprofit fundraising myths, you’ll be unable to live your truth. And your donors will be unable to live theirs. It’s important for fundraisers to fully embrace philanthropy as a positive, not a negative. There is absolutely no reason to hold back when it comes to inviting people to open their hearts and give until it feels good.
Show others the path to be the change they want to be in the world. Facilitate their journey and, together, you’ll walk the pathway of passionate philanthropy.
Want to Unlock Your Fundraising Potential?
I created the 7 Clairification Keys to help you unlock your nonprofit’s fundraising potential through a series of “clairifying” worksheets and exercises. (1) Values. (2) Stories. (3) Brand. (4) Social Channels. (5) Support Constituencies. (6) Engagement Objectives. (7) Resources and Systems.
Like all Clairification products, this Guide comes with a no-questions-asked, 30-day, 100% refund guarantee. I hope you’ll dig in, refresh your thinking, and refresh your plans.
Spend some time to bring your work to new life!