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Cross-posted from Rebekah Burch Basinger's excellent blog, Generous Matters, where you can read her original post



“How can we get more people to support our organization? We’re working hard but not seeing the results we need.”

The caller’s frustration was palpable — and familiar. Over the years, I’ve been asked variations of his question by countless CEOs and board members. Short on cash and time, ministry leaders are on the hunt for the answer to their organization’s fundraising woes.

I’m betting that despite all the phone calls, coffee conversations, and free counsel over lunch, there are thousands of nonprofit folk on the same hunt — including perhaps you, dear reader. Hence the following bullet point reply to the question above (and all those like it). To experienced fundraisers and/or consultants among the Generous Matters readership: please add your favorite “must know” advice to the list. Wise counsel is gratefully accepted here.


  • Nobody wants to know the trouble your organization has seen. I apologize if this sounds harsh, but hey, that’s the way it can be with the truth. Beyond the coerced ones (e.g. board members, staff, friends and family), organization-focused sob stories don’t encourage generosity. But talk about lives (communities, the world) made better because of your work, and ears perk up. People give to organizations that promise solutions, answers, and change for the better.

  • Strong fundraising programs seek investors over donors. The best gifts come from folks who believe your work has staying power and that gifts given in present will reap rich returns for years to come. Appeals focused mostly on the now — on short-term problems and solutions, or worse, the organization’s survival — are useful in attracting donors. But it’s invitations to give in support of a vision fueled by possibilities and promise that brings you investors (partners).

  • Your organization isn’t as unique as you think. For every CEO or board member who tells me his/her organization does something no others are doing, I can almost always point to two or three that are. And that’s as it should be. If a problem or opportunity can be handled by a single organization, there likely isn’t much to the cause. My gripe isn’t with duplicate missions, but rather with failure to connect with peers in your field. Savvy donors appreciate collaboration and cooperation as much as they do originality.

  • Before you ask, listen. Most people think of fundraising as all about the ask. But truth be told, the best gifts come because a fundraiser listened. It’s easy enough to rattle off a pre-packaged fundraising spiel. The bigger challenge is to listen for and truly hear what’s on the other’s heart. Ask people what they think of and want from your organization. Most folks are only too happy to give their counsel. When that counsel is received with gratitude and grace, good things follow.

  • There’s danger in assuming how a prospect will respond. You’ve likely heard what happens to “u” and “me” when we assume and it’s not a happy outcome — including (or most especially) when assuming about a gift. More often than not, prospects/donors surprise us with what they give, sometimes to the good and other times not so much. Here’s a truth you can take to the bank. You will never know what someone will give until you ask. As the points above make clear, it’s how you ask (and listen) not what you assume that matters.

  • Big dreams attract big gifts. Conversely, too low expectations and too much acquiescence to the inertia of the status quo do little to attract generous giving. If you want to “get” more people to give (first time gifts or increases), you have to break free of the scarcity-bounded box into which you’ve likely shoved the organization. Make your case for support larger than the organization’s current status. As you ask, so will your organization receive.

There you have it, a boiled down, bulleted summary of advice I’ve offered by phone, over coffee, and served up with lunch. To be sure, there’s more to fundraising success than these points. But give the six a try and I’m certain you’ll raise more funds and grow hearts in the process.

If not, our next lunch is on me.

Cross-posted from Rebekah Burch Basinger's excellent blog, Generous Matters, where you can read her original post

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