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So often, fundraising is a heartless creature, relentlessly focused on wringing the sentiments and wallets of our donors inside a systematic, scientific way. We build, segment and expand our databases, we take advantage of more and more complicated technology to attempt to connect with the most people, the right people, the richest people, using the least effort and least expensive financial cost. Fundraising becomes sales, with the product the charity's programs instead of running shoes.

The charities best at fundraising are the ones that maximize their connection to their donors at the very least possible effort and price. The personal connection, in which the organization really focuses in on the donor, and reaches know them and what's important to them, is always saved for the heavy hitters, the major donors, the only real ones that the organization can afford to invest time and energy on. Consequently, fundraising often begins to drive programming decisions; i.e., a course may be initiated if it is felt that it will be appealing to donors, as opposed to the most necessary program required.

charity funding

Is any one of this ideal? Of course not. At its core, fundraising such as this builds false connections with its donors, increases cynicism regarding charitable work and turns charities into businesses.

I've always felt that the relationship from a fundraiser and a donor should be similar to that of the relationship between an old-fashioned small grocery store and a regular customer. The customer measures her usual time every week, the supermarket owner comes out to greet her by name (not because he looked it up in a database, but while he knows his customers), chats with her about what is happening within their lives and the neighbourhood, already has her staple items ready to go, mentions the sale items which he knows she will like, tosses inside a treat for the children, and lets her know that he has some special items arriving next week and that he will put some aside for her. He has her groceries delivered within the hour, by a local kid that puts her purchases away for her. The customer leaves the shop feeling a part of her neighbourhood, that she has been looked after, that they is special and important, but additionally that it could be unthinkable for her to visit anywhere else - her heart is there, for the reason that store, with this supermarket owner.

Can a large charitable organization pull this off? Of course not. Large charities would be the Walmart of fundraising. They can't make authentic connections with everyone in their 100,000 record database. While their organizations might have amazing programs that make a wonderful difference within our worlds, lives and environment, they simply cannot function with no big fundraising machine in it, and real reference to donors isn't feasible; it must be automated and made efficient to the fullest extent to bring in the most money possible. All of this is, obviously, an essential evil also it simply wouldn't be possible to obtain the funds required to perform important work that enormous charities do without it kind of fundraising.


But smaller organizations can absolutely be that old-fashioned small supermarket! Because their donor base is smaller as well as their organizational financial needs are less, they can put the heart into fundraising. Several committed volunteers can reach out to the donors, write actual letters using (gasp!) an actual pen and address the envelope in actual handwriting. (When's the final time you threw out an envelope that had your handwritten name and address onto it without opening it?)

They can use real stamps! The chief Director can call donors up and let them know what is happening. The ED can write personal notes at the base of the fundraising letters to any or all the donors, not just the very best 1%. The smaller charity can treat their donors like people and get to understand them as individuals, learning why this organization means so much for them and just how they can best contribute. Donors become real supporters with commitments past the financial contribution, rather than walking wallets. It doesn't imply that it isn't necessary to possess a strong database and appropriate technology, follow up and consistency, of course. It simply means that smaller charities will go in which the larger charities can't - and therein lies the chance!

Posted Feb 24, 2013 at 8:17am