Fundraising with Generosity

Katya Andresen, who writes the awesome Nonprofit Marketing Blog and is also one of my co-conspirators for Generosity Day, made a great point on last week’s generosity economy post:

I have been thinking a lot lately about the latest research on the mind – and our mirror neurons – which shows the extent to which we’re hard wired for empathy and, by extension, generosity…Yet giving to charity isn’t growing at the pace of other elements in our generosity economy.  I think one aspect is that many of the people in charge of unleashing generosity (fundraiser, namely) have failed to fully understand and embrace this landscape.  We as a sector must engage with supporters in a more meaningful, connected and GENEROUS way ourselves if we hope to inspire the generous actions that come to people naturally…rather than treating them like walking wallets.

In many ways, this observation was the nagging worry that led me, two years ago, to my generosity experiment: I was spending my days talking to people about connecting with their passion, about being bountiful in their thinking, about being generous, yet I hadn’t moved my own relationship with generosity forward much in the three years I’d been doing my job as a fundraiser.  And without that connection, I didn’t feel like I could do my job in an authentic way.

Sounds good, you may say, but let’s get real for a second.

OK let’s.  For example, I just talked to a colleague who is getting on an international flight on Monday for a fundraising trip.  If she doesn’t raise $400,000 next week, a branch of her nonprofit is going to be shuttered.  With that looming, how hard is it going to be for her to see those potential funders as anything but walking wallets?

The answer is that it’s hard.  Really hard.  But it’s the only way to be really successful.

The first thing we need to do is reframe what we’re doing here.  Last week I talked to the new class of Acumen Fund Fellows about how to mobilize resources behind their ideas.  I started the session with a a free association around the word “fundraising.”  They were wonderful and honest, throwing out words like “storytelling” and “connection” but also a healthy dose of “hitting up your friends,” “draining,” and “begging.”

But here’s the big secret: great fundraising is a fair deal for everyone involved.  You (the fundraiser) are connecting people to their passions and giving them an opportunity to do something great in the world.  You are helping them express their dreams and maybe, just maybe, connecting them with an organization that will be transformational in their lives.  You are giving them the chance to change the world.

Of course what you have on offer won’t be for everybody.  But that’s OK.  For the people who you do fundraise from, you are offering something of (at least) equal value to the donation they are giving.  In fact, by definition that’s what they’re saying by giving to you!

Approaching fundraising with generosity, to me, is about approaching each conversation with the attitude: “let’s figure out what great things we can do together.”  It’s not about your need, not about separating a well-meaning person from their money, and it’s definitely not a zero-sum game.

Best of all, it is incredibly empowering to wake up and realize that, as a fundraiser, you have something of great value to offer.  If you can couple that feeling of empowerment with a spirit of generosity, I promise it will transform your fundraising, transform how your donors experience you, transform your ability to connect great, meaningful, powerful ideas to the resources they need to come to life.

Thanks, Katya, for the inspiration.


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P.S. This post is about fundraising but there’s nothing special there – most of these conclusions apply to more traditional sales and business development when done the right way.  The greatest salespeople bring joy to their work, and the knowledge that they are making their customers’ lives better.  The thing they’re selling – and their attitude – is a gift to the customer.

2 thoughts on “Fundraising with Generosity

  1. I absolutely love this post. I did fundraising at a private school for 11 years. One of the things I miss, and I know I did well, was connecting with people. Every day I spent 15-20 minutes out in the hallway before school started greeting parents, smiling at kids who were so excited to get to school I became the face that people recognized, trusted and asked so many questions (that most often had nothing to do with my job, but that I was happy to help in any way I could). Forming those relationships made the fundraising part of my job easy.

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