If there is one thing we have found in our years of working with nonprofit organizations, it is that many people are looking for an easy way to raise money and would prefer someone else to be doing it. The following are real things clients have said to us:
We need to find an angel.
We need a really good fund raiser who knows a lot of rich people.
Bill Gates ought to be giving us money.
I want to raise $40 million in endowment and never have to fund raise again.
We don’t have the time or money to go after small donors—we need to look for big donors.
Oprah ought to be giving us money.
This “lightning bolt” theory of fund raising fizzles out in the face of certain time-tested realities:
- The most likely donors are always the organization’s constituents—people who receive the organization’s service, who volunteer, who are in the audience, and so on. People who do not know you are not going to give you money. Fund raising is about building relationships (our mantra).
- The most compelling fund raisers are also internal to the organization—and are often volunteers. One hundred percent Board giving and getting has to be the first step.
- Big donors often arise out of small donors—you have to nurture relationships over time to grow the size of gifts.
- Big donors often want to know that there is a broad base of support in place—people who have voted for the organization with their dollars.
- The most stable fund-raising base is diversified, which makes smaller donors important. Organizations that rely heavily on foundation support are vulnerable to changes in foundation priorities and decreases in foundation giving, and understand the importance of committed donors of modest amounts who will provide critical unrestricted support every year.
- Fund raising never stops. If you can put that $40 million endowment together in the first place—after a long period of donor cultivation—you still won’t be able to call it quits. Organizational needs, budgets, and missions are not static, and relationships with donors and constituents will always be important. We will never see the day that Harvard stops raising money, and its endowment is reported to be more than $30 billion.
- If you think a particular rich person ought to be giving you money, so do millions of other people.