It’s not uncommon to read an article explaining what fundraising is. After all, many of us have made that our lives’ work. Yet we still find ourselves explaining what exactly it is that we do to family at the annual holiday get-together. To take a different look at this noble profession, here are some things that fundraising is not:
Fundraising is not easy
If it was, the 1.5 million nonprofits in America would all be flush with cash, and our counterparts on almost every other continent in the world would also be enjoying unlimited funds to carry out their missions. But given the competition, economies that make “disposable income” an elusive dream, unique missions that aren’t widely known or understood, and just human nature in general, fundraising is not easy. And yet …
Fundraising is not rocket science
Over the course of history, we have learned (intentionally or serendipitously) some techniques, words and practices that can improve fundraising. There are courses we can take, degrees we can earn, resources like Who’s Mailing What! where we can see what others are doing, case studies to study, other colleagues who are more than willing to share their learnings and free newsletters like this one that are full of helpful trade “secrets.” The challenges can be finding time to do the analysis that is needed to make fundraising the best it can be and sorting through the vast amount of information — some good, some not-so-good — that is on the Internet.
Fundraising is not for the morally deficient
As fundraisers, we have an obligation to not step over the line of honesty. Presenting our cause or the need as something other than what it is may reap short-term gains, but the long-term ramifications can hurt us, the organization — and the larger fundraising community in general. Anyone who has been involved in nonprofit fundraising for any length of time probably can recall a time or two when backlash from some other organization’s scandal hurt our efforts. We owe it to the nonprofit community that is doing so much good and important work to always make sure we represent it in a way that brings honor, not shame.
Fundraising is not for the narcissistic
If your mantra is, “It’s all about me,” fundraising is something you may want to avoid. In fundraising, the mantra is more like, “I’ve seen the target audience, and it’s not me.” Successful fundraisers realize honest communication (visually and in words) in a way that makes the recipient of the communication relate to the message is what matters — not whether or not you like it.
Fundraising is not for the anti-social
Fundraising is all about people — connecting people to causes they believe in enough to support with their money and often even their time. No matter how frustrated we become, we have to fight against thinking of our donors as a necessary evil. They are our organizations’ lifeblood; without them, any progress on mission accomplishment would be impossible.
Fundraising is not demeaning
When someone asks what you do, stand tall and be proud. So much of the good that has been accomplished in the world and is taking place today is because a fundraiser asked someone to support that cause. We can’t demand a worldwide “Be nice to your fundraiser” day or expect Hallmark to develop a line of cards to honor your favorite fundraiser. But while “fundraiser” doesn’t usually make the list of the most respected professions, it is an important behind-the-scenes support to some of the most highly respected positions: firefighters, doctors, nurses, scientists, military officers and teachers.
Fundraising is not stagnant
What’s working today may be outdated in five or 10 years. This old dog has been a fundraiser long enough to remember some things we used to do that seem actually humorous now. And, I suspect, the same will be true when the new, young fundraisers look back in 10 or 20 years on tried-and-true fundraising practices of the second decade of the 21st century. What I’ve learned over the years is never stop learning. While the latest big idea may not make sense for cost-effective fundraising today, you never know what will become the sharpest arrow in your quiver in a year or two. So stay current, construct careful tests, analyze everything by the numbers and not just your gut, pick yourself up and try something else when your latest effort flops, and remain flexible. Those are the fundraisers who will be making a difference in the next decade, regardless of what generation they were born into.
There’s little that hasn’t already been written, so this old dog will let the American writer Garrison Keillor have the (almost) final word: “It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.”
Fundraising isn’t painless — but the joy it brings makes our profession amazing.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.