One of the (several) things I enjoy about teaching fundraising courses at a couple of universities is the opportunity to explore fundraising with people who have little or no experience in the field. Things I take for granted and view as “just the way things are” suddenly appear in a different light. Students ask, “Why?” and I’m challenged to think back to when I was new in the field and remember the reasons.
Some of the lessons I teach my students—and have to relearn from time to time myself—are ones that can help make me a better fundraiser. Have you forgotten any of these?
A case statement that explains—in simple language—what your organization does and why it does it is an important tool. The AFP Fundraising Dictionary defines the case for support as “the reasons why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, usually made by outlining the organization’s programs, current needs, and plans.” Writing a case statement is often part of a capital campaign but can be seen as “nice but not necessary” for everyday fundraising.
And yet, a good case for support helps fundraisers—and board members, volunteers and leadership—articulate what your organization does that is distinctive from all the other similar nonprofit organizations and how a donor can help you achieve your goals. Taking the time to figure out that it costs $XX to accomplish this and $YY to accomplish that sheds light on direct mail offers, major gift proposals, even grant requests.
Not sure where to begin? Do a search online for “sample case statements” and you’ll find some great examples to get your own creative juices flowing. But don’t give up when you see the graphically exciting examples being shared. Start with what you can do; a Word document is a huge step up from people just making it up as they go along.
Reading a 990 is eye-opening. Many nonprofits are required to file some version of a 990, “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax,” each year. It’s a tax form. There are a bazillion numbers on it. But there is also a wealth of information that the public can freely access—which means that you, as a fundraiser, ought to know what the public is reading.
Income and expense are, of course, important. But so are the mission statement (Part III), governance (Part VI), compensation (Part VII), functional expenses (Part IX), overhead (you’ll need to calculate it) and other sections that interest you most.
Don’t just leave the 990 in the capable hands of your financial team; if a donor has taken the time to read it, he or she may query you about it. You may not be able to answer the question on the spot, but you should at least have a working knowledge of this public document.
Ethical issues aren’t always black-and-white. Members of theAssociation of Fundraising Professionals have signed anEthics Statement. Some organizations have their own ethics policies or have adopted the AFP version as their own. Reading, understanding and agreeing to a statement is important. But so is regularly challenging ourselves to think about ethical issues that we might confront in our everyday work.
Jerry Panas occasionally publishes a “real-life” challenge; these are excellent opportunities to think through tough issues in an unpressured way. If you haven’t already read it, his article on “A Gift of Pearls” is worth considering. The late Tim Burchill identified “7 Ethical Challenges for Nonprofits,” summarized in a 2006 article from this publication.
When a student asks me, “Why is that wrong?” it’s often tempting to say, “Well, it just is!” But taking the time to mentally explore and then articulate why we handle certain situations one way or another is both a reminder of the gravitas of our profession and the need to constantly be thoughtful about our words and actions.
As a result of teaching fundraising, this old dog has had to re-examine some tools and ask questions of myself about things that have become second nature; sometimes that’s the only way I can clarify my reasoning for people who are new to this profession. I’ve learned to welcome those opportunities because they make me a better fundraiser and hopefully help me instill in others a desire to be the very best they can be, as well. I encourage you to ask yourself “Why?” from time to time; your answers to yourself may remind you of why you are passionate about fundraising and the cause you advance.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.