Confessions of a Fundraiser: Donors are Neighbors Too

women-supportiveEarly in my career I was managing human service programs doing the hands-on work that helped people in need better their lives. I considered the fund raising process a necessary evil to be endured in order to get the resources required to make a difference, and, by the way, pay my salary. I felt that the donors were getting off easy by just writing a check. They remained untouched and living comfortably in a much more elevated lifestyle than I ever would. I took their money and gave them a clearer conscience.

I suspect my thinly veiled disdain for the rich was more obvious than I knew, and likely my presentations to potential funders came across as impatient and strident. “What do you really know or care? Just make a gift.” At that time, I was more like the used car salesman caricature, looking for the quick sale and not caring much about the buyer.
After 20 years in fund-raising, I have a completely different attitude, thanks to some wise mentors and knowing some incredible donors who both gave and cared deeply. Now I see my fundraising role as more like a church pastor helping people grow in wisdom and compassion.

“Wait,” you might say. “From used car salesman to pastor- how can that be? Isn’t fund-raising just another form of sales? Aren’t you simply packaging a product and looking for someone who wants to buy it?” My answer is an unequivocal NO!

We fundraisers are really helping people with resources plug into missions with their time, talent, and treasure. We are INVITING them to be a part of something much bigger and more important than themselves. We are helping them make wise investments of their resources. We are promising that in the process they will grow intellectually and spiritually. And, we are promising that we will guide and protect them as they venture into this “foreign” place. All of this is the work of a pastor or priest.

The term “where your heart is your money will follow” succinctly describes our donors. They test us with an introductory gift (think of it as a tip) to see what kind of group we really are. If we respond appropriately, their involvement and their giving typically increases.

First we must perform well and meet their expectations that we are worthy of their generosity. We must thank and receipt them in a timely manner. We must use their money as they instruct or designate. We must operate successful programs that efficiently accomplish what we promise.

Next we must report. We need to keep the donor aware of our organization and its work. We must tell them honestly what their money accomplished and even what challenges we faced. We should honor their giving and recognize them for their commitment to our work.

Those are the basics. That is where you start to build relationship and ultimately win their hearts. Going deeper requires a goal. I think that goal is to find ways to connect the donors to your ministry or mission that will, in turn, meet some of their personal needs.

In short, you are visiting talking by phone, texting, exchanging letters, giving tours, and emailing- all to discover how best to involve them beyond their current giving. Like a good pastor, ask questions and listen.

It is about them, not about you or your programs.
“Mary, you just gave an amazingly generous gift. We sure appreciate it. Can you tell me what made you do such a wonderful thing?”

Maybe they want to inspire their children and help them learn responsibility. Perhaps they have a professional skill or asset that they can give that helps the organization. They might want to volunteer and do something completely different than what they do every day. It could be that something has happened in their past that motivates them now to reach out and help others.

Discover their motivation and interests. Find creative and authentic ways to address those through your organization’s work.

In the process, you become a trusted confidant, mentor, or friend…pastor. You will have the privilege of guiding your donors on their own path to personal growth. Ultimately, you will be making the match between donor and client that result in better lives and opportunities. Much better than selling used cars!


Michael Friedline
Sparrow Solutions Consultant
NonProfit Advance, President

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