How to Get Past the Discomfort of Fundraising

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Click here to read on The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

By Andy Brommel

Every now and then in the consulting world, a nonprofit executive comes to us with a version of the following proposition: “We don’t want to build a fundraising program — we just want to do a one-off campaign to raise $X million in endowment so we can support our mission without fundraising.”

Sounds chill, right? Alas, from a donor relationship standpoint, this is like planning for marriage while refusing to date. And from a mission-funding standpoint, it’s like observing that you get thirsty every day and resolving to buy an iceberg.

Nonprofits offer singular access to real, life-size, take-it-to-your-grave meaning.

After you hear this idea a few times, you notice people’s discomfort with asking people for money. We love and celebrate philanthropy, yet we can’t seem to shake the feeling that there’s something grubby about fundraising.

The discomfort emerges when a board member hesitates to solicit friends and associates. It’s understandable, but what does it say about our missions if we can’t share the good news and invite friends to join us? You can see the discomfort in the euphemism we heap on the act of asking for money: fundraising, development, and advancement — what’s next? Withsuch hide-the-ball moves, we betray a lack of confidence in the value of our work.

Nonprofits offer donors singular access to real, life-size, take-it-to-your-grave meaning. To invest in these causes gives meaning to our labor; expresses our deepest values before the people and community we care about most.

It’s a new year, after one too complicated and challenging to describe. We all have experienced a collective trauma that sends us reaching back to our core values. As we navigate ongoing uncertainty, we also see the awe-inspiring power of nonprofits to serve communities, create solutions, change lives, and sustain hope.

Without a strong case for support, you have to work harder to raise less.

Behind nearly all these vital interventions stands philanthropy and behind that, fundraising. So, let’s commit to bringing the full-throated power and meaning of our missions to our communities with renewed energy, confidence, and passion — to the people we serve and the partners we ask to join us by sharing money, time, and talent.

A passable sermon … but how do we start?

Build a culture of fundraising — beginning with your staff. We need organizational cultures that embrace fundraising as essential to our missions — a source of vital resources for the organization and meaning for those who give.

To build that culture from the inside out, we must engage more of our staff in the fundraising process: by asking them to help shape the case for support and share their experiences and frontline stories, by joining cultivation activities as appropriate, and by encouraging all to collaborate as widely as possible with fundraising professionals.

A culture of fundraising begins with your board. There’s really no way around it: If your board doesn’t believe you offer unique value and meaning to those who give — and doesn’t reflect that conviction through trustees’ own giving and fundraising — you can go only so far.

Engage your board members in shaping, learning, and using your case for support by putting it into their own voice. Emphasize their essential leadership roles in giving and fundraising at both a collective and individual level.

Set clear goals and have frank conversations about giving and fundraising. And engage them directly in the many facets of donor relationship-building (of which direct asking is only one and generally not the most important for volunteers).

Build a case for support that gives you unshakeable confidence in the value and meaning that you offer. Recognition tchotchkes aside, your case is the balance of what your donors “get” in exchange for their gifts — and its value increases with the care, craft, and passion you put into it.

Without a strong case, you have to work harder to raise less — securing perfunctory, socially expected gifts while feeling like you’re twisting arms. When you have a powerful case that resonates with those who share your passion for your mission, you not only raise more money but you feel energized and proud as you do it.

Weave giving and fundraising into all of your communications. People shouldn’t remember the first time they heard about giving to your organization — it should be ever-present, often in minor and incidental ways, in all the places you communicate.

That doesn’t mean making donors the hero of every story or any story — just make sure that the act of giving is visible as part of the stories you tell about lives changed and communities supported. Then the requests for money won’t feel like they’re coming out of the blue or from a separate arm of the organization.

These are just a few good places to start. If we all enter this year with the conviction that our work matters and that we offer profound value to those we invite into it, perhaps we can set the table for our most visionary and far-reaching impact yet — powered, in some part, by the noble business of fundraising.

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