Your organization’s side-gig, that is.
Too often, fundraising is “something we need to do to fund the mission.” That’s not an effective way to look at it, though.
I have seen small organizations that are trying to build support. They have their mission firmly in mind, they’re already doing the work… except they haven’t begun with fundraising in mind. It was mission first, fundraising second.
Then there are established organizations where programs are outpacing support. For them, mission is an ever-flowing fountain of need and ideas… except when it comes to building the fundraising program to support those ideas.
And that makes it so much harder.
Would you build a house, fill it with furniture and worry about the foundation later? (Ever watch those renovation shows on HGTV? The worst news is always about foundation troubles.)
No for-profit business would think about a great product and not about whether people would buy it – and how they would buy it.
So why do we miss that? Is it because we’re not for profit – and that name implies money shouldn’t be part of it?
We shouldn’t dirty our beautiful missions with filthy money?
Fundraising: so much more than money
Fundraising is not just about money.
Fundraising is about building supporters, building community. Fundraising is about making your mission meaningful to more people, so you can do more or better mission.
As long as you’re thinking about fundraising as what supports your mission, instead of an integral part of your mission, you’ll be raising less money than you need. And your mission will suffer.
Fundraising is about people. People you know or don’t know. People who care or could care about your work. People with values and generous impulses. People eager to heal the world.
If you haven’t been considering them as you build or sustain your organization, you’re limping when you could be running.
You have to make room for them – and that means prioritizing fundraising as much as program work. It cannot be an either/or – it must be both.
Fundraising without programs is fraud. Programs without fundraising is doomed.
What to do about it?
If your organization is just starting up
Build fundraising into your plans now. What kind of board members will you recruit? Board members should be your first donors – every one of them. But they will also need to be the bridge to the community. What training will you provide for them so they can be great ambassadors?
Who will support your programs? Where can you begin to widen the circle? Take the time to think this through – though you will adjust your thinking as you learn more.
And by the way, the answer to the question is not “rich people”. Think about people you can reach out to for whom your mission will resonate. Spend plenty of time thinking through connections.
If you begin with an assumption that foundations will fully support your work, remember that doesn’t mean you can go easy on the relationship-building work. Foundation and corporate giving decisions are made by people, too.
So how will you reach people? Will you build an email list? Great! Do you have a reason people who don’t know you will sign up?
Will you use direct mail to introduce yourself? Also great! Have you budgeted for a real program, not just a one-off letter? Are you ready to give it the time it takes to really build a program?
Either way, you will always be more successful if you’ve built some community credibility first. Relationships!
The point is fundraising must be there at the very beginning and must be nurtured along with your new organization. It’s central to your mission – you need to build with it and around it. (Don’t let programs get too far ahead of your funding or you’ll be a good idea that never made it.)
If yours is an experienced, but underfunded, organization
This will be most organizations. Who has more money than they need?
But if you haven’t been treating fundraising as essential to your organization and mission, now is the time to fix that.
Do not create fundraising goals by subtracting what you have from what you need. Your fundraising leadership needs to be part of all budget discussions. I mean ALL, not just fundraising. If your expert doesn’t believe that shiny new program can be funded, that should matter.
Fundraisers never just do their “bring in the money” thing. Their thing is actually organizational stability. You won’t succeed if you park them off to the side.
Likewise, your board and non-fundraising staff need to understand that fundraising is everyone’s job. Because fundraising is mission, too.
Not everyone will be a solicitor – though I’ve known some program staff who are amazing solicitors because they’re so close to the work. But every single person has to take responsibility for being an ambassador. Everyone should be able to speak persuasively about your work and why it matters. Everyone needs to make people in the community – all potential donors – feel needed and welcomed.
Fundraising staff need to be involved at the highest level
You’ll want your fundraiser’s perspective when tussling with big questions. Why? Fundraisers sit at the intersection between the community and the organization’s work. They have the perspective to see the big picture and often, what might be coming your way.
Informing them of important decisions after those decisions are made is a mistake.
Adding a big new program? You need to know if it can be supported.
Changing your name or logo? Don’t find out too late that donors are confused and going elsewhere.
Running into financial trouble? Your fundraisers need to know it all if they’re going to be able to help.
Even internal decisions matter. A good fundraiser can read people and systems. To succeed, they need to see how every part of the organization (including donors, volunteers, and board) fits together. Trust their judgment.
Fundraising isn’t dirty
Years ago, my organization had a new leader. We were getting short on office space, so his solution was to move fundraising to another building. I fought that decision until the day I left.
Fundraising is too often seen as “begging” or distasteful. It’s neither. And fundraisers are not just there to go get money.
Fundraisers need to be where the organization’s leaders are. And they need access to program staff. Shunting them off, where they won’t trouble anyone, is a mistake. That counts whether it’s physical as in my example, or just in the way fundraising is treated.
If your organization focuses more on relationships and less on money, you’ll do better. And if you treat fundraising – and fundraisers – as integral parts of your mission, you’ll do better.
Don’t you want to do better?
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography