The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Become a better fundraiser by liberating your creative side


creative.jpgFundraising is a creative business.  Dashboards, metrics, and SMART outcomes are all important, but essentially we are in the business of transforming relationships, one donor at a time.  Here are a few tips about keeping the creative juices flowing.

Tune your ear to listen for stories. 

Please don’t just tell your donors about programs.  Tell them stories of transformation.  A story has a problem, exertion, and a solution.  A story has a hero who overcomes obstacles.  Stories give your donors ways to imagine themselves as participants in your organization’s work.  If they can see themselves as characters in the drama, then they will want to be involved.


The culmination of a fundraiser’s work is thanking a donor for a gift.  So close your eyes and imagine that you are watching a particular donor open her checkbook, take the lid off her fountain pen, ask what the date is, write down a number with many zeros, and tear at the perforation.  Imagine what you will say to the donor about how that gift will advance the cause.  Imagine pocketing the check (it’s tempting to peek at the amount, but politer to wait until you get back to your car).  Once you have rehearsed that happy episode in your mind, ask yourself: what do we have to do to move the relationship from where it is now to that moment?

Take a walk.

Make a list of all your top donors and prospects.  Put it in your pocket and walk out of the office.  Every now and then, take the list out of your pocket, and ask yourself what you can do in the next month to advance each of those relationships.  It will shake loose new ideas about staff members you can introduce your donors to, events that might show them a new side of the organization, written materials them might find interesting.  Then go back to the office and refresh your to-do list.

Don’t be a victim of deadlines.  

Almost everything on a fundraiser’s todo list is deadline driven.  Events.  Grant proposals and reports.  Mailings. In fact, everything you do except advancing relationships with your donors has a deadline surging toward you.  And we know that advancing relationships is the most important thing.  So practice carving out a little time when urgency is not your master.

Whether your creative outlet is writing poetry, acting in a community theater, or dancing, you have to do that on your own time.  But, please, leave a little creativity for your work as a fundraiser as well.

paul-jolly-125x175.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Paul Jolly, founder of  Start Growth, Inc.   His clients include advocacy and religious organizations, social services, community arts and education non profits. He has lead workshops that have garnered top evaluations at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, Maryland Nonprofits, various chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professional, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, and the Philadelphia Foundation.

Topics: Fundraising