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How do I Explain a Reserve to My Donors?

A few months back I was facilitating a board retreat for a historical society in Denver and talking about the importance of fundraising, when a board member named John stopped me and asked me this:

How can you expect us to feel motivated to raise funds when we have such a big endowment? I’m not convinced we actually need the money.

Great question, John! And I truly appreciate your honesty. Here’s my answer:


Share it with others — Today’s Tweetable:

#Nonprofits w/endowments/reserves should be proud, not embarassed. Think Harvard! A strong case = strong fundraising. @amyeisenstein

Video Transcript

It was really important for the staff at the organization to hear that their board members weren’t helping with fundraising, in part, because they didn’t feel any sense of urgency (or even a need).

You may be thinking, “What a lucky position to be in — I wish we had a reserve or endowment.” But, the fact is, they still need to raise a lot more money if they are going to accomplish what they want to do.

What do you think my one word response was to John’s question? Harvard!

As everyone knows, Harvard has one of the biggest endowments in the world, but that doesn’t keep any of their development staff up at night — or stop them from working hard every day to raise more money. Nor does it give pause to their thousands of Harvard Alumni from sending in bigger and bigger gifts every year.

So… what’s the key difference between Harvard and this historical society in Denver?

Their case for support.

It’s All About the Case for Support

Harvard has an extremely strong case for support, which includes a sense of urgency. I don’t know what their specific case is, but I’m guessing it’s something to do with being and staying the top university in the world.

We spent much of the day discussing the case for this historical society and creating a sense of urgency, which the board members believed in.

So regardless of whether or not your organization has an endowment or reserve fund, the question to ask yourself is:

  • Do you have a strong case for support?
  • Is there a clear and urgent need?
  • Do your board members understand that case and fully support it?

Only when you can answer “yes” to all of those questions will your board members become the amazing fundraisers you want them to be.

I know I answered John’s question because by the end of our time together, he was excited again about fundraising for the amazing projects at the historical society.

I hope this helped you too, and any questions you might have had about fundraising with a reserve.

And now, let’s dive into this week’s Year of the Board assignment.

This Week’s Task

This week, I’d like you to take some time to review your case for support. Is it strong? Do you convey a sense of urgency?

Does your organization have a reserve? Have you created a sense of urgency in your case for support? Tell me about it in the comments.

EisensteinHeadshot-103 - 2014The preceding is a cross-post by Amy Eisenstein, CFRE, author, speaker, trainer, and owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm. You can read the original post here. You can also view her presentations and listen recording of her November 2013 webinar for GuideStar here. Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE is a best-selling author, speaker, trainer and consultant, as well as the owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm for nonprofit organizations and foundations. Her published books include: Amazon Best-Seller Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops: How to Leverage Your Annual Fund in Only Five Hours per Week, Raising More with Less: An Essential Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Professionals and Board Members, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop. She currently serves as the president of the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – New Jersey Chapter. Amy received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management from the Wagner Graduate School at New York University and her Bachelor’s Degree from Douglass College at Rutgers University. Amy became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2004 and became an ACFRE in 2013. Please visit her website for her free eBooks at

Topics: Fundraising