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Fundraising: It’s all in the details

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Question:

What are three often-overlooked ingredients in conducting successful fundraising?

Answer:

* Understanding the landscape.

The most-overlooked thing in many fundraising campaigns is a good understanding of philanthropy in the U.S.

Philanthropic giving grows every year, yet when most nonprofits sit at a board meeting, they think they can’t reach their budget goals due to a tight economy, which must necessarily have produced a decline in giving.

Not true.

You can probably argue that there are legitimate moments in time where you might see some short-term economic impact, for example when a factory closes in a small town, shutting off the main income valve in an area.

But in the macro picture, the statistics invariably say that giving is growing. Giving USA is a great resource for finding these numbers.

* The right balance: board and staff.

Most nonprofit organizations, outside the context of higher education, don’t recognize that fundraising is a board-driven activity supported by staff, and not the other way around.

They only end up with a staff that’s unhappy and the organization’s office becomes a revolving door.

Fundraising is a top-down activity not a bottom-up one.

Board members should be asked to take the leading role, to go to the people in their sphere of influence and involve them in the organization’s fundraising goals through cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.

Staff plays a solid supporting role; staff members physically support board members with their presence at cultivation activities, provide expert answers to questions, and essentially provide any services the board needs to be successful in fundraising.

But some nonprofits are so small that they have a staff of only one or two. In that case, fundraising responsibilities should go to the person who can handle it best. Ideally, it’s the chief staff person.

* Recruit the right board.

One of the most consistently overlooked things in staging a successful fundraising campaign is how board members are recruited.

Many nonprofits think they have to take anything that comes along and end up feeling a little apologetic towards anyone who’s on their board.

If you have a board recruited for the right reasons, there’s virtually nothing they can’t do – and vice versa. A board recruited without careful attention to skill sets and resources will accomplish very little.

When fundraising becomes a priority for your organization, you need to realize that it may be time to shift the makeup of your board to one that has fundraising as its chief skill.

–Compiled by Elizabeth Floyd


David L. Sternberg is associate director of Public Service and Strategic Initiatives at The Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy.

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