Fundraising Fun? You Betcha!

October 29, 2009

Nonprofit blogger and Twitterer, Marc Pitman, recently twitted that “many see fundraising as an evil, a necessary evil but evil nonetheless.”

I couldn’t agree more and, frankly, I just don’t get it!

Fundraising is challenging, it’s people-centered, it’s constantly learning and evolving, it’s creative – fundraising is FUN!

So why is it that so many nonprofit organizations, who have that unbridled passion for their mission, look with fear – or even disdain -upon the very work that funds their mission?

Is part of the problem that they’re simply making the idea of development into a much bigger project in their minds than it actually is?

Are they looking at all of the components of a strong development office – grants, individual giving, writing and designing a website, crafting a social media plan, donor stewardship and communications, event planning – and simply throwing up their hands, or – even worse – focusing on just one or two pieces of the puzzle and ignoring the rest?

I often tell the story of my first position in nonprofit development as an example of, yes, you can do it all, have fun doing it, and create sustainable funding for your organization.

I had spent six years working in programming and communications for one of the nation’s largest private family foundations. It had been my dream to do development for one of the many nonprofit organizations I came in contact with daily in my foundation job and I was thrilled to land my first position as development director for a regional nonprofit with an annual operating budget of $3 m.

Thrilled that is until I realized the extent of what I had gotten myself into. The previous development director had not written a grant proposal for the past five years (save a yearly DCED grant), had turned the membership program over to various mail houses who had bungled the job to the extent that donors had left in droves, and allowed nearly every key community contact to lapse.

Did I mention that this was a 15-hour a week job?

I remember going to one of my best friends in tears, telling him that I’d taken on more than I could handle.

Once he calmed me down, once I realized that I had already been used to playing multiple roles in my foundation job – and in my life – I set upon a strategy to create a sustainable funding system for that organization. My first month I focused solely on creating a grants system and reactivating community contacts. By the second month I had developed a strategy to revitalize the organization’s annual giving.

It was definitely a juggling act.

The results? In slightly over one year, we redesigned the annual individual appeal, segmenting it to target businesses as well as individual donors and showed a 25% funding increase (while decreasing costs by 31%), raised over $350,000 in foundation and corporate support, designed the organization’s website and implemented online giving, scheduled three separate “friendraising” events at no cost to the organization, established a weekly column in the local newspaper, and reestablished key community contacts.

Since that position I’ve realized that I was lucky in many respects. I didn’t have someone else’s mess to clean up after, which allowed me to create my job from scratch – without having to deal with mismanaged record keeping – I had a wonderfully amenable board and an Executive Director who did not interfere, and I had an awesome mission.

Still, I’ve replicated those exact same systems in a number of organizations since then. Each one, to be sure, held its own unique challenges.

But, by systematizing your organization’s development program, I’m convinced that any organization can create sustainable funding, even in a tight economy – and have fun doing it!

Love this post? Hate it? Let me know … and please be kind, retweet!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Scot November 5, 2009 at 6:20 am

No doubt the complexity of fundraising paralyzes many. But I think the Fear of Fundraising Syndrome (FOFS) you diagnose has a more fundamental cause: Most people hate to ask other people for money. Why?
1) It feels like begging.
2) It incurs an obligation to a stranger.
3) They just don’t believe that what they’re doing is worthwhile enough.

These may all be the same thing.

For reasons still opaque to me, FOFS is less apt to strike when asking for money via a grant than via donation–(I’ve done my share of both kinds of asks)–maybe because project funding seems more like wages for work (an equal swap) and general organizational support seems more like begging. I’m speaking more to the psychology of the matter than the truth of the matter, I hope you understand. Thought I do more grant writing these days, I feel both kinds of fundraising are equally legitimate.

Good luck in your ventures.

Scot November 5, 2009 at 6:22 am

*edit* “THOUGH I do more grant writing…”

Marc A. Pitman, November 13, 2009 at 6:24 am

Yay for FUN fundraising!! 🙂

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