That's when you begin to acquire knowledge about an
organization, and acquisition of knowledge is the first step in
preparing to raise money. To sell any product, it is important to know
just what the product is and what it does. It makes no difference
whether you are a waitress explaining the intricacies of the specials
of the day, a computer salesperson pitching the new improved model, or
a solicitor in a fund-raising campaign.
If you are the person running a campaign, you must make sure your
solicitors have access to information about what the organization is,
what it does, and why money is needed in the furtherance of what
goals. If you are the person asking for the money, think about how you
would go about making your request without that information. Yes, you
will on occasion find people who will give because you ask rather than
give to the cause, but that is the exception and --this can't be said
often enough ---you cannot rely on the exception to support your
New board members should be invited to attend a formal orientation
session exposing them to what the organization does, how it is
important to the community, why its services are necessary, and what
their role will be. Volunteer solicitors in a campaign should be given
the same information. Professional development officers need to steep
themselves in the workings of the organization from their first day on
Your Mission -- It Is Not What You Do, But The Difference You Make In
The Lives Of People
No matter what your position or role in an organization's fund-raising
efforts, the mission statement is the single most important thing you
must understand. The mission statement outlines the organization's
values and purposes, programs and services, and hopes and dreams ---
its priorities. Printed on the back of a schedule, gracing the first
page of an annual report or emblazoned on a lobby wall, it purports to
delineate the whys and wherefores, explain the purpose, and elucidate
the value to the community of an organization. It is, or should be, a
statement of an organization's reason for being and its strengths. As
such, it is the first statement in the litany of fund-raising.
Making The Case For Support
You can't make the case for support unless you know
your organization's strengths. Neither can you expect to succeed
without an understanding of its weaknesses and perceived negatives. I
remember a campaign I worked on during my first year in fund-raising.
A hospital was trying to raise money to build a new 200-bed facility
to replace its existing 100 beds. Sounds reasonable at first blush.
The problem was the hospital only had a 40 percent occupancy rate. Our
job was to raise money to add 100 beds to a hospital which already had
60 empty beds. There goes the argument for needed expansion.
However, we understood that seeming weakness in our case and why it
existed. As a result, we were able to to eliminate the perception of
it as a negative argument against our campaign. The hospital was
better than half empty because it was antiquated. Doctors didn't want
to send their patients there. The solution was to build a new
hospital, and the community needed the additional 100 modern beds.
My point is this: If your organization has a weakness that can be
perceived as a fund-raising negative, you don't ignore it. You face it
head on, take the offensive, and turn it into a fund-raising strength.
New and forming organizations are fraught with weaknesses and
perceived fund-raising negatives. To begin with, the community got
along without them in the past. How does a new organization know it is
needed now? Has it done a market analysis? Is there a compelling
reason for the organization to exist and for specific people to
support it? The answer to those questions can be found by asking one
question, and it is a question every organization new or old must ask
at the onset of every fund-raising campaign. It needs to be asked
about the organization in general and the specific purpose the
campaign is supporting.
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Who Cares Enough About Our Organization To Give Us Money?
Remember the TV detective Kojak, played by the late Telly Savalas, who
was always asking, "Who loves ya, baby?" Well, the question
fund-raisers need to ask of their organizations is the same, although
it is more likely to be phrased, Who cares about us and why?
Let's go back to the mission statement for a moment. If an
organization's mission statement is truly in sync with what the
organization is doing, it provides a way to help identify who cares
about it and why. Or put another way, it explains who benefits from
the existence of the organization.
For nearly all community organizations there are two primary
1. people who directly avail themselves of its services.
2. a much larger grouping of people who, while they do not avail
themselves of its services, nevertheless indirectly benefit because of
what the organization does for the community.
That latter group benefits because of its geographic proximity. For
example, an arts education organization obviously benefits those who
enroll in its classes. They and their families would therefore be high
on its list of donor prospects. However, all of those who live within
the area from which it draws students also benefit because of the
value such an organization has to the community. The availability of
arts classes makes the community a better place to live and arguably
has an effect on property values and the desirability of the community
as a place to do business. Therefore, all of those persons living
within the organization's service area are logically also prospective
donors. Business and civic leaders likewise may never take a class,
but they too benefit --- even more strongly than the pubic at large,
it can be argued --- because of the positive effect the organization
has on a community in which they are even larger stakeholders than the
Don't Look To Distant Benefactors
When it comes to the solicitation of corporate contributions, area of
service and geography are often important deciding factors. A company
rarely gives to a community organization that does not provide service
to an area in which a substantial number of its employees either live
or work. To put it bluntly, a corporation usually must have a facility
or business connection in an area if it is to be successfully
It is possible for your organization to have a unique quality that
would cause people with no stake in your geographic area to care about
it enough to provide support. An inner-city housing initiative, for
example, might draw the interest of national foundations and
philanthropists from other communities because of its potential for
replication. But you shouldn't count on distant benefactors. That
would be the exception, and you can't rely upon the exception for
Money usually stays close to home, and conversely when it moves out of
your area, don't expect it to come back for regular visits. Once a big
donor, one who may have supported you for years, leaves town, his
sense of philanthropic responsibility will be transferred to his new
community. While he may remember you fondly and treasure his years of
affiliation, he may no longer benefit from your services and therefore
may no longer care about you in the same way.
Why Do You Need To Raise Money?
How your organization raises and spends money is knowledge a
successful fund-raiser must also have at his or her fingertips. You
need to know and understand your organization's budget so that you can
delineate the cost of operation and how the money to cover that cost
is to be generated. Nearly all non-profits are, by their nature,
limited in their capacity to increase earned revenues, and many are
unable to produce any earned income because they serve groups that
cannot afford to pay.
The inability to produce enough earned income to cover the cost of
doing business is why non-profit organizations must be fund-raisers.
However, understanding your organization's capacity to produce earned
income, knowing where such income comes or could come from, and
maximizing it, are essential to developing a successful fund-raising
campaign. If your prospective donors believe you could be producing
more earned income, they will be far less likely to give of their
limited philanthropic resources.
No matter what your role in a fund-raising campaign --- be it
organization director, development director, campaign chairperson, or
solicitor --- to operate at optimum effectiveness you need to be
convinced your organization is maximizing its potential to produce
earned income --- within the confines of its mission. That last part
is very important. There are things non-profit organizations simply
cannot do which are second nature to businesses seeking to improve
their bottom line.
At the Cleveland Orchestra, when we were subjected to questions
regarding our profit-making capabilities, we responded half-jokingly
that we could not increase our productivity even if we played a
Beethoven symphony faster than it was played 200 years ago. We could
not speed up our assembly line, nor could we reduce the number of
violinists required through automation. If the "widget" we produced
was symphonic music, we could not cut costs by turning ourselves into
a chamber orchestra and still produce our symphonic-music "widget."
On the other hand, we did need to demonstrate constantly improving
efficiency in other areas of our operations. For a non-profit, being
perceived as a lean, mean fighting machine is critical to optimizing
the results of a fund-raising campaign. But budget cuts must not come
at the expense of maintaining and improving service to the community
and program quality. A non-profit that cuts back on the quality of its
services will diminish its fund-raising appeal.
Before You Ask For Money, Know Your Organization
To summarize: If you are to raise money, you need to know your
organization. There is no faster way to lose prospective donors than
by being unable to answer questions and remove objections to giving.
You need to know the organization's reason for being, its goals and
objectives, its beneficiaries, and its operational and financial
efficiencies. Know those things, and you know the organization. That
knowledge will do more than prepare you to answer questions. It will
give you the confidence and composure to pick up the telephone or
knock on a door, and ultimately to sit in someone's office or living
room and ask for money.
Knowing the organization is crucial to fund-raising, but without
commitment, knowledge is worthless. There is a terribly hollow ring to
words spoken in support of a cause in which the speaker does not
believe. Volunteers occasionally find themselves pressed into service
for an organization that their company or their boss supports but to
which they have no real commitment.
Keep in mind that, while these people can be effective
fund-raisers, they do it by forcing themselves to "meet their quota."
High on their list of priorities is figuring out a way to avoid the
assignment next time. You will not be developing a pool of volunteers
from which you can draw to staff future campaigns if your solicitors
have been forced into service.
Knowledge and commitment are the two strongest tools a fund-raiser can
have. Without knowledge, you cannot present your case to prospective
donors. Without true commitment, you will not maximize the results of
your efforts. If you are to raise money for an organization, know that
organization and be committed to its cause.
Check Out How Well You Know Your Organization
___ We have a clearly defined, fully understood, and completely
accepted mission statement that addresses the difference our
organization will make for those it serves, rather than merely
describing what it does.
___ We are certain that our services are different from others, are
not duplicated in the same service area, and that they are needed. If
we are planning a new organization, we should conduct a "market study"
to be certain our services are, in fact, needed.
___ We take advantage of our strengths as we make our case for
support, letting none of the good things we do be "well kept secrets."
___ We turn our weaknesses into strengths by first identifying those
we are handling in a defensive way or ignoring, and then developing a
plan of action to change them.
___ We have full access to information about what our organization is,
what it does, and why money is needed in the furtherance of what
goals. We have a "full disclosure" policy in effect at all times.
___ We can readily identify our principal support base from those
personally touched, inspired, or motivated by what we do, and from
those not directly involved, but who are influenced and impressed by
what we do.
___ We know exactly what our operational budget numbers are. When it
comes to raising money, if we do not know our expenses, we can neither
set fund-raising goals, nor let prospects know our needs.
___ We can demonstrate constantly improving efficiency in all our
areas of operation. But, we don't make budget cuts at the expense of
maintaining and improving our service to the community and program
___ We maximize earned income and constantly assess whether more can
be obtained by increasing charges for services in order to lessen