It’s Time for Nonprofits to Rewire the Way We Think About Fundraising

Unfortunately, fundraising often feels like a dirty word for many nonprofit and church leaders. It’s more than a necessary evil. Sure, fundraising helps pay staff salaries, operate your outreach activities, and advance your mission. Yet, it’s so easy for major gift officers, development professionals, and executive directors to inadvertently get “hung up” with an antiquated—or inaccurate—view on the intent behind fundraising.

We’ve served in nonprofit leadership for over 15 years working in outreach, marketing, and fundraising so we completely understand how easy it is to have a complicated relationship with donor development.

Let’s dive into some simple thoughts that can help rewire the way our brains feel as nonprofit leaders about fundraising.

Avoid feeling guilty about asking for money.

When you feel guilty about asking for money, donors sense it.

People often feel weird about asking for money—especially if your salary is wrapped up in any potential gift. If you’re awkward in the ask or shy away from the topic, it introduces doubt in the minds of anyone you approach.

Be confident. Your cause represents an opportunity…not a burden.

Stop viewing fundraising as a “means to an end”.

Many leaders view raising money as a means to get back to doing the work they really care about.

The reality is your work with donors is just as important as the cause you serve. Let us say that again for everyone in the back…the people benefiting from your organization’s work include both the recipient and the one giving.

Be known for solving a problem.

Just because you’re absolutely sick and tired of talking about a campaign does not always mean it’s time to switch things up.

Be known for addressing that problem with your donors. Now, that doesn’t mean you cannot launch new things. It does mean that you have to lead with clarity.

We need to remember that just because we’ve shared about our homeless shelter or clean water project eight hundred and forty-nine times doesn’t mean everyone else has too.

Keep reminding your audience of the problems you are solving because they are constantly being bombarded with messages and likely need to hear it again…even if you told them before on your website or inside an annual report.

Donors are people, not numbers.

Lean into building actual relationships with the people who make your mission happen. They’re giving for a reason…find out why.

You’ll likely hear the reasons that now compel them to support the very work you do. Simply pausing to listen or leading in with open-ended questions can spark clues about how to better serve your donors.

Your fundraising efforts need to be in lockstep with your marketing and outreach initiatives.

This is easier to coordinate when it’s a small team, but harder to find time to do it well. In larger organizations, it’s easier to divide up the work but harder to all stay on the same page. No matter where your organization finds itself on this spectrum, it takes effort.

The bottom line is…without the fundraising there’s no money coming in, without the marketing there’s a lack of adequate collateral to offer your supporters, and without outreach, there’s no compelling reason to give in the first place.

Data is a story begging to be heard.

Just because it doesn’t come in narrative form doesn’t mean that your analytics aren’t telling you something. Listen close enough to hear what your data is telling you.

Spending time working on your fundraising approach feels unattainable with so many things on your plate. We completely get it. The payoff is well worth it though…

You’ll become a more informed leader, better decision-maker,  and most importantly the advocate your cause and donors need.


Evan Cox

For more than fifteen years, I have served businesses, nonprofits, churches, and the leaders who guide them. Whether serving on staff at internationally-renowned nonprofits or running a coffee company in Southeast Asia, my work has taken me around the globe. Today, I work alongside organizations as a StoryBrand Certified Guide, so that they communicate the right message and then infuse it throughout all their marketing–from strategy and copy to websites and fundraising.

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