Fundraising. I can’t say it is one of my most favorite activities. It would be so much better if there were a money tree we could go shake. Fundraising doesn’t even make my top 10, and yet it is vitally important if you’re going to have the resources needed to do the work you’ve been called to do.
I made a statement on Facebook this morning referencing a fundraiser that Iowa Governor Terry Branstad had over the weekend. At his 2nd annual Birthday Bash he raised $600,000. That is a great event regardless of what campaign or charity. So kudos to the Governor.
I wondered out loud why is it that it seems like non-profits, in particular ones in Central Iowa, never have events like that? I was told by a couple that I was comparing apples and oranges – there are more non-profits, there is only one Governor. Another person said that by and large more people give to charity than campaigns. I don’t doubt any of that.
As far as having a rosy outlook on non-profit fundraising though here’s what I’ve noticed. Most giving for non-profits can be summed up in two words – disasters and diseases. It’s not a complaint, just an observation. In Christian circles after supporting your church the two words are these – foreign missions.
Again not a complaint just an observation from 20 years of non-profit experience.
So if you’re a local organization or parachurch ministry whose work is not dealing with disasters and diseases then you’ve got your work cut out for you. For local organizations not dealing with disasters and diseases another two words to remember – buildings and grounds.
If you build it they will fund. That goes for churches as well people tend to get behind a building program more than funding daily operating expenses.
So what if you are a local organization who doesn’t have a building to fund? Here are some fundraising tips learned from some successes and some failures a long the way.
Keeping the “two words” theme.
1. People give to a compelling vision. If you’re just sharing your needs instead of sharing a clearly what your organization is about and what need you are going to meet then you’re going to struggle. People don’t get excited about needs. They do get excited when they see clearly the impact you are making in the community and what you’re planning on doing in the future. In Christian circles people want to see what kind of eternal impact you’re making and what God is calling you toward. So if you’re always pointing to the past and in emergency mode when you fundraise you are going to struggle.
2. Fundraising is hard work. I’ve known organizations become complacent about fundraising once they’re funded by grants. Grants, however, always end. I worked for an organization that learned this the hard way (why we were dependent on grants is a blog post in and of itself). Two grants ended and the budget was cut by 65%. You can’t replace that overnight. There needed to be a fundraising strategy in place and it takes time to replace that amount of money. Rarely does it happen with one event. Also rarely does it happen with one individual, an organization needs all hands on deck, but they also need somebody who will spearhead the effort and provide accountability.
3. Just ask. So many organizations and individuals fail at fundraising because they simply don’t ask. This is most (not all) political campaigns excel – they have no problem asking and often they’ll ask for a specific amount. Jesus said it best when he said (my paraphrase) you don’t have because you don’t ask. He was talking about prayer, but the principle is the same. Sometimes people don’t realize you have a need and sometimes they need us to suggest ways they can contribute.
4. Build relationships. See point #2 – it’s hard work. The majority of fundraising isn’t done at an event, but through meeting people one-on-one, identifying who the major donors are, asking current donors to set up meetings, etc. People care more about organizations where there is a personal connection.
5. Pray faithfully – for Christian organizations – who is our provider? God is. Trust Him. He may not answer our prayer in the way we hoped or intended, but we need to depend on Him to meet our needs. Also pray for His direction – remember point #1 a compelling vision. Our calling, our passion, can be compelling to somebody. Pray for the right people for you to partner with.
Anyway yes the economy is bad and yes fundraising is hard, but work hard, pray harder, build relationships and never be ashamed to ask people to partner with you in the great work that you are doing, but communicate the vision clearly!