5 Important Questions Nonprofits Have About Fundraising
“It feels like begging…..” “I don’t know anyone with money….” “It’s just icky….”
Whoever first realized that people hate the thought of public speaking more than death itself was likely never asked to fundraise.
Yet, the average person feels very philanthropic. In the United States alone, nearly $450 billion was donated to charity in 2020. And when you consider all of those coins pushed into boxes at convenience store counters, cash donations at houses of worship, and instances of “keep the change” when someone buys a $7.00 box of cookies with a $20 bill, that $450 billion number is probably an underestimate.
This isn’t just an American phenomenon, either. Worldwide in the last decade, almost half the world’s population has helped a stranger.
However, a lot of the anxiety surrounding fundraising stems from a lack of understanding—both in the process itself and in the audience’s motivations. By educating yourself and your team on the importance of and best practices involved in fundraising, you can set your team up for continued success.
So, what are some of the top questions nonprofit professionals have about fundraising?
- Do I have to fundraise?
- Won’t people see our good work and just give?
- Won’t people hate me for asking?
- Don’t you need to be a back-slapping car-salesman type to fundraise?
- Isn’t fundraising complicated?
Let’s dig in.
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1. Do I have to fundraise?
Well, no. Just because your organization is a nonprofit doesn’t mean you need to fundraise. Your charitable nonprofit status (501c3 in the United States) allows you to fundraise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to ask for charitable donations.
Nonprofits have most of the same revenue-generating methods available to them as many other for-profit businesses. More nonprofit revenue is generated through fee-for-service offerings than any other source.
Fee-for-service occurs anytime you charge, even less than cost, for the program you offer. Perhaps you charge 10% of the retail value for holiday presents for families in a blighted neighborhood. That 10% is known as your “fee-for-service,” and it can go toward supporting your other philanthropic programming as well.
2. Won’t people see our good work and just give?
Sorry—no, again! Don’t we wish it was true?
Unfortunately, it’s a busy world. People are absorbed into their own lives. Even if they see something great, it probably never occurs to them to contribute, or if it does, it’s probably less money than they could.
The bottom line is that to get charitable gifts, you need to ask for charitable gifts!
Actually, that’s not as bad as it sounds. Fundraising is a process. You identify a potential donor. You connect with them. You build their interest with some show and tell about your mission. Then you ask!
Identifying, connecting, and showing, and telling can be fun if you’re passionate about your mission. The only hard part for most people is the ask—which, if you’re slow, could take five seconds.
But to effectively acquire donors, you have to ask. Even if you go through the entire process up to the ask, your prospective donor is waiting for that ask. Simply put: if you don’t ask, they won’t give.
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3. Won’t people hate me for asking?
The key is being passionate about your mission and crafting an effective nonprofit development plan. It’s essential to remember that you are not asking for you. You are asking for those your mission serves. As a result, it’s important that you take the spotlight off of yourself and put it on your cause. Actually, deeper than your cause—a person your cause serves.
Any of us as humans can connect with one person much more easily than we can with the abstraction of a “cause” or even a small group. You’ll want to cite a specific example of someone your donor’s gift will help (such as Bob, the homeless man who slept in your shelter last night) rather than your organization (“Hardlanding House,” where Bob slept.) Help your donor help Bob.
4. Don’t you need to be a back-slapping car-salesman type to fundraise?
Actually, no! One of the great things about fundraising (and really, there are a lot) is that there is a place in fundraising for every personality type.
Do you love meeting people and have no fear of personally asking? Then, sure, get out there and make a case for big gifts! How about people who really don’t want to ask face-to-face? Direct mail, grant writing, social media… all types of fundraising require great writing skills that many introverts have to offer.
What if you just want to have fun while you help your favorite cause? Plan that special event—from a firehouse beef ‘n beer to an orchestra’s black-tie gala. If you’re great at sales, then find the nonprofit that connects with your mission, sell it, and teach others to sell it.
The point is that everyone has a role in fundraising, whether it’s on the front line (making the ask), behind the scenes (accounting for gifts or setting up the dance hall), or in the process (giving a tour or calling to say “thank you”).
5. Isn’t fundraising complicated?
It’s only as complicated as you want to make it.
Sure, there’s a method of fundraising called “planned giving” that deals in estates, trusts, and wills that can get a bit arcane, but 99.9% of what you do isn’t likely to touch that.
Nearly all fundraising strategies are pretty straightforward. It starts with having a good case—a well-thought-out reason why anyone should give. What are the benefits, for example, of preserving that tract of land? Lots! The wetland portion filters water to restore the aquifer below. The forest portion provides healthy air. The meadow portion promotes pollinators. The entire tract can function as a de-stressing environment for anyone who walks through.
Each of these benefits can be tied to a “what’s in it for me” of the donor. Cleaner air and water, less stress, and more plants and flowers for area gardens. So, it’s not just “save the trees.” It’s “help Chrissy grow up with less stress, freshwater, and clean air so she can change the world.”
Fundraising isn’t really about the money. It’s about the difference that the money can make. Educating your donors about that difference—also known as your mission—is a major part of getting the gift. And that’s not complicated at all!
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As a fundraiser, you do so much more than collect funds for your nonprofit. By being the conduit to your mission, you help your donors feel better about themselves. Through you, they can make a difference. Because you made a case, and they responded, they now have bragging rights about their good work for the community.
Fundraising is a win-win—a win for the people you serve by getting the means to make their lives better, and a win for the people who give by helping them feel better about themselves. There’s no question about that!
About the author:
CEO, Kanopi Studios
As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne helps create clarity around project needs, and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.
Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew.