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Essential Elements of Great Fundraising

This article originally appeared on

As you prepare for a campaign, it's good to review some basic elements of fundraising that we all need to recall from time to time. Even pro athletes go through basic training every year. So, no matter how many years you have been in the business, you should pause to remember the basics. You may have some of your own to add.

People give to people. People don't donate to a building or a cause. They give because someone asks someone (not a company, organization, or foundation) and because someone believes in the need. People are the basics of every campaign.

Fundraising is not about money. It is about the work or a need that changes or saves lives. Money is how we make it happen.

Fundraisers need to be able to see things through the eyes of their donors. This is one reason why volunteers are so important. As we work for organizations, we often get too close to our product and what we are trying to sell. Getting feedback from volunteers and donors can help keep us on track.

Fundraisers, whether they are volunteers or staff, should be donors first. No one should ask for a gift who hasn't first made a gift of their own. Think about it. If an acquaintance asked you to support a cause and you asked if they supported it and they replied, "No," would you give a gift?

Friend-raising comes before fundraising. Fundraising is not just selling. Fundraising is cultivating a prospect until they see the need and are ready to give.

Fundraising is not just asking, it's inspiring. Fundraising is the business of inspiring people to fill a need.

Fundraising is about needs, not achievements. People applaud achievement but give to change lives and save lives. This is why great fundraisers are also great storytellers. Pull in the audience and tell the story in a way to which they relate.

Learn how to harness the power of emotion. Fundraising should first appeal to a person's emotion. Logic then reinforces the appeal.

Offer a clear, succinct problem to which people can relate. First open their hearts and minds. Then they will open their wallets.

The trustworthiness of a fundraiser and his/her organization is the reason people start to give then continue support. Look at your organization and make sure that you can answer tough questions about how money is spent.

A fundraiser's biggest asset is his or her sincerity. Learn everything you can about your organization and your cause. Support it with all of your heart. As you talk about your organization and your cause to volunteers and donors, the passion in your voice will mean more than the words you speak.

Learn to talk to your donors where they are. Know your donor base. Who they are, how much they can give, and when is the appropriate time to ask them to give. Once this is done, they will give on their terms, not where the fundraiser wants them to be.

Say "Thank you" properly and often. Remember, your donors also give to other organizations and causes. Make sure they remember yours. Research shows that a person needs to hear from the organization seven times to remember you. Look at your cultivation plan. How many times per year are you touching your donors?

Great fundraising is based on ethical people who care. You will get great results by taking careful risks, innovating, using new technology, patience, sincerity, and caring!

The next time you are planning a major gifts call, take a moment to review these basic fundraising elements. Are you practicing your craft in the most effective way? Getting back to basics could make the difference in your campaign and your next call.

Jan Murfield, Jeffrey Byrne and Associates, Inc.
© 2004, Jeffrey Byrne and Associates, Inc.

Jan Murfield is vice president of Jeffrey Byrne & Associates, Inc., a nonprofit capital campaign consulting firm based in Kansas City, Missouri, with offices throughout the United States.
Topics: Fundraising