Hey fundraisers – you’re doing it wrong!

Though I don’t spend tons of time writing about it, one of my main projects with Changing the World 101 and the consulting I do is figuring out how to raise funds for projects that improve our planet.

At a simple level, fundraisers tend to divide their efforts in two directions:

1) Soliciting many people for small donations through facebook, email, direct mail, etc.

2) Soliciting a few very rich people for large donations.

For now, I want to focus on working with high net worth donors because so many organizations are getting it wrong. They are leaving tons of money for great causes on the table and they are alienating their most important donors.

The most common approaches to getting large donations are:

  • Host a fundraiser where tickets cost anywhere from $100- $10,000+ a head.
  • Put people on your board of directors in exchange for a give-get (meaning that in order to have a position on the board each member must give x amount of dollars to the organization or get x amount of dollars through fundraising).
  • Sending the Executive Director to meet face to face with the prospective donor and personally asking for a donation.

Though all of these approaches are common (the third one is the best), none of them are terribly effective.

If you want to build an exceptional organization that people enthusiastically donate to, you need to be exceptional in your fundraising efforts.

Think for a moment about your personal charitable donations. I’m willing to bet that the largest and most frequent donations you make are to organizations that you have some sort of serious connection with. Personally, Global Camps Africa is one of the organizations I donate to. And before I was a donor, I was a volunteer.

That’s where the secret rests: when you are courting a high net worth donor, don’t ask them for a cash donation. They get asked for cash donations every day of their lives and it gets irritating to them.

Instead, ask for them to donate their time. Get them to volunteer for you doing work directly with your benefactors.

This will do a few important things:

1) It will show them that you care for reasons beyond their checkbooks.

2) It will help them understand the work that you are doing and that they may one day be funding.

3) It connects them to the work at a deeply personal level.

4) It asks them to make a true investment in your success. To the really rich, time is much more valuable than money.

When they volunteer for you, make the experience exceptional. Make sure they see the results of the work that your organization does and make sure they have contact with the people who your organization is serving. If possible make the volunteer experience last for several weeks. For example, if you are running some sort of international development agency, actually bring your target donor to the ground and have them work on a project with you for a few weeks.

If that’s not possible, a few days, and in a pinch, even a few hours will work. But go for a few weeks.

Once they fully understand the importance and scope of your work through first hand experience, then they will be much more likely to donate generously and tell their friends about your organization.

Approaching a rich person and asking for a financial donation right off the bat (whether it’s through a check, a fundraiser, or a board position) works ok. It’s a bit cold and it’s a bit disconnected and it’s what everyone is doing.

Approaching a rich person and asking them to volunteer with you – to lend their time and expertise and invest in the people you are serving – is exceptional. Few organizations do this. I wish more would. It increases the financial and human capital of the organization massively, and it creates a deep connection between your most important donors and the cause.

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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Hey fundraisers – you’re doing it wrong!”

  1. Tammy September 28, 2012 at 7:58 pm


    As a professional fundraiser, I just wanted to let you know that many organizations figured this out years ago. As I am aware that many organizations have – not there are many who are doing it right. Campus Crusade, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision….just to name a few. It really isn’t a new concept – invovement breeds committment. Something many organizations figured out a long time ago. Thanks for posting.

    • Jason Connell October 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      Tammy – thanks for taking a moment to comment. You’re right: I am not the first person to come up with this approach to fundraising, and some organizations are already using it. Unfortunately, many are not – especially the small grass roots organizations who I work with. This post was inspired after a dinner with about half a dozen non-profit directors who were focusing on social media campaigns, $5,000 dinners, and direct mail.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. As it’s October 1, I hope you and your organization are entering the best quarter of 2012!

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