How to Make Fundraising Part of Your Organizing : President Barack Obama’s successful campaign unites organizing and fundraising more powerfully than anyone has ever done on such a large scale. We experienced a level of volunteerism and a level of giving that we had never seen before. And, we are still seeing an increase in the number of people volunteering.
This is important because of the proven relationship between giving time and giving money. A study conducted by researcher Penelope Burk showed that 93% of donors volunteer and 95% give to organizations they volunteer. So, there is a natural relationship between organizing people to give time and organizing people to give money.
And, you’ll notice that I used the word “set”. Fundraising is organizing. If you can do one, you can do the other. In fact, if you can do one, you should do the other.
Most of my work focuses on helping groups integrate their fundraising and organizing. This idea of building an organization’s fundraising culture makes sense to many people in theory. However, they often do not know how to apply it in their organization.
Here are some tips and strategies to get you started:
Discuss the Organizing & Fundraising Equation.
At its core, organizing and fundraising is about building relationships and building community. Unfortunately, we often hear the word fundraising and jump right into the part where you ask someone for money, even if it’s only 5% of the work.
Clearing this misunderstanding is very important. Start by taking a step back and broadening your view of what fundraising really is – building a broad network of like-minded people who will provide you with time, money, advice, strength in numbers, moral support in good times and bad, and much more . again.
Organizers and leaders from your membership base will see striking similarities between identifying and engaging new volunteers and identifying and engaging potential donors. They both start by recognizing people who are leaning toward your goals and learning more about their interests, then engaging them when the time is right by starting small, and working their way up to a steady and more dedicated engagement.
Seeing these parallels helps organizers and membership leaders realize they already have most of the skills needed to be a great fundraiser – because they are the same skills it takes to be a great organizer. This won’t force anyone to start fundraising, but it’s an important first step to understanding what fundraising is all about.
Create Space to Talk About Fundraising Difficulties. Discuss the Society’s Taboo around Money.
Fundraising is scary at first for almost everyone. There’s no way to get around this. It’s also very beneficial and empowering but doesn’t come until later for most of us. US culture is full of taboos about money – it’s something the polite people shouldn’t talk about. So, what does that say about us not just talking about money, but asking some of you too?!
This is what I was told… It said that we would not play by these rules. It is said that we will not allow a system that has created such a highly unequal distribution of wealth to go unchallenged. It is said that we take pride in the life-changing work we do, that we need money to do the work, and that we are not afraid to ask for it.
Fundraising does not support political work; Fundraising is a political job. Fundraising does not support organizing; Fundraising is organizing. Fundraising does not support movement building; Fundraising is movement building.
Now, as I step out of my soapbox, let me say how important it is that you talk to anyone new to fundraising about the societal taboo about talking about money. It’s very real. Discuss where they came from. Talk about their first association and earliest memories of money and share yours.
Create a space to talk about how they feel about asking someone for money. Depending on the culture of your organization, you will have to think about how personal you want to be. We certainly don’t want anyone to feel pressured or like they’re being forced into some kind of group therapy session. Be aware of this and respect people’s boundaries as well as your own.
Another important part to know is that fundraising challenges can be different for different people. If you grew up in poverty or struggled to make ends meet, your perspective and feelings about asking someone for donations may differ from those of your colleagues who grew up in the upper middle class. This is not to say that organizers from families who don’t have to worry about money are convenient fundraisers. This is just to say that everyone’s comfort and discomfort will be different.
The dynamics of race and class are present in fundraising and other things, perhaps even more so because we are dealing with money head-on. Be aware of this and include how racism, classicism and privilege play a part in your conversations about fundraising.
Get Started with a Little Scary Fundraising Job. Demystify Who the Donor Is.
This can convince organizers and members to see all the different ways they can help raise money without actually having to make a “request”. This is not to say that they will not grow to be a part of that fundraiser. However, it can be helpful to get their feet wet by doing other things first – contact donors to thank them for their gifts, accompany experienced fundraisers on cultivation or stewardship visits, give donor tours, lead open houses, or write greeting cards. handwritten thank you to the group who just attended lunch. By starting to deal directly with donors, everyone will begin to see them as real people.
For example, I remember working with a training organizer to write a note on a thank you letter. He found a letter to a close ally of the organization and was blown away by the magnitude of his contribution. This woman is completely at odds with her vision of who the $1,000 donor is.
The experience broke the “us versus them” concept, of a donor who was somehow different from the people he knew. This is a critical step for him. Not only did he realize that he could successfully solicit donations of that size or more. He also discovered that he himself knows people and can relate to people who are capable of providing significant gifts.
Make Fundraising Part of Leadership Development.
Leadership development is a core program for many grassroots organizations. When members get involved and volunteer, they can learn about the political process, how to write press releases, public speaking skills, etc. Fundraising is rarely on this list. That has to change. Your members do not need to be protected or protected from budget and balance sheet complications. By not including fundraising and organizational finance as part of our leadership development curriculum, we are colluding with the same system that makes money a public taboo that should not be discussed.
Educate your members about the role of fundraising in building a movement for justice. Show volunteers your budget and help them understand how to read it. Tell them where you get the money to pay for all the work your organization does and all the time it takes to raise that money. Talk to them about how they can help, and not just by selling raffle tickets and organizing page sales.
See if your volunteers are willing to come with you to meet with a supporter to talk about the organization’s impact on their lives. Ask them to write a “thank you” note to the donor or contact a new contributor who just gave their first gift. As a supporter, there’s nothing more powerful than hearing directly from the people on the pitch how their donations make a difference.
Offer Different Ways to Get Involved in Fundraising.
Everyone has different talents. Match people with fundraising strategies that match their strengths. If someone is a great writer, they may be able to help write a direct appeal letter, newsletter article, grant proposal, or donor acknowledgment. Born party planners can lead house parties or grassroots events for organizations.
And always, always think of ways to connect organizers and members to the work of individual donors, including donors who provide significant high-value gifts. Don’t assume that your organizer only knows low-dollar donors. They also know the prospect of a “big” prize. Remember – giving is not a state of being rich; it is a state of mind. As I alluded to above, the more you equate “big donors” with “rich people”, the less successful your fundraising will be.
Finally, don’t assume that the so-called big donors won’t want to meet the organizers or membership leaders. These high-value supporters are people who really want to hear a firsthand story about the work and who are better off telling it than the main organizers and volunteers.
Provide Structure. Building an Accountability System.
Fundraising should be part of every staff work plan in addition to their organizing responsibilities, as at Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts (N2N-MA) where I was director of development for seven years. Each organizer has a list of donors assigned to them, fundraising goals, and a timeline.
There is also an agreed amount of time each person will spend on fundraising each week. This may vary from person to person and from week to week but is planned into their schedule. Otherwise, it won’t happen. Can’t be extra if there is extra time. Because, as the organizers know, there is never any extra time.
Regular reporting on fundraising should be integrated into staff meetings and supervisory check-ins. At N2N-MA, I put fundraising on the agenda as often as possible. This ensures the group is alert and we don’t run out of time and have to shorten it. When you meet, ask people to report on their priorities, achievements, and fundraising struggles, just as they do with their organizations. It also provides a level of group accountability so everyone can hear what their peers are up to.
Absolute transparency around revenues and expenses is even more important for organizations where all staff have fundraising responsibilities. Report budget projections and provide regular financial reports so that it is clear how much money needs to be raised, how much has been pledged, and how much is left.
Also, discuss potential shortfalls as a group and troubleshoot new fundraising strategies to close gaps. Everyone in the organization has the right to know and understand the group’s financial situation. It also helps staff to understand how their work fits into the big picture.
Provides Training, Templates, Tools & Talking Points.
Take regular time for skill-building exercises related to fundraising. At N2N-MA, I try to give my organizers a new fundraising script every month or two and I put it up at staff meetings to practice. I would have people sit back to back so that it would be as close to the actual phone call as possible, without the benefit of eye contact and body language.
I also occasionally pair veteran organizers who have been doing fundraising for a while with new members for peer mentoring and support. It’s incredible for organizers with little fundraising experience to see what a skilled fundraiser “someone like [them] can become,” as I’ve heard more than one organizer say.
I will plan enough time so that everyone has to play as a donor and fundraiser at least once. Then I would bring the group back together to share what worked well and where they stuck. With the new script, I feel the organizers are more comfortable using the phone if they have the opportunity to run it multiple times.
In addition to training, it is important for development staff to consistently provide letter templates, sample voice messages, and talking points about recent achievements and upcoming campaigns. Some people use it. Some don’t. Some just feel better knowing they have it if they need it.
Either way, it gives organizers all the tools they need to successfully maximize the effectiveness of their fundraising time and allow them to get to work. You don’t want everyone to reinvent the wheel every time a follow-up letter needs to be sent. Providing these materials also sends a message that you value and value their time. Something that all organizers never have!
Meet People Where They Are. Not Everyone Will Grow Up Loving Fundraising.
While any organizer can be an effective fundraiser, that doesn’t mean it will be everyone’s favorite thing to do. Some will like it. Some will like it. Some don’t. Does not matter. They don’t have to love, or even like, every aspect of their job. But fundraising is a core skill. All organizers and members need to know how to do it. This model is also the most sustainable way to build an integrated long-term movement for social change – so it is also responsible organizing.
Since fundraising is not the primary job responsibility of any organizer, it is important to understand that they will have more time to devote to fundraising at some times than others, depending on the ebb and flow of your group work program. Be sympathetic to this. At the same time, it’s also important to remind organizers that the best time to raise money is often at the height of the campaign.
It’s a delicate balance. This is also one of the reasons why it is so important to have a structure in which fundraising is part of everyone’s weekly work plan, and is discussed regularly at supervisory check-ins and at staff meetings. Otherwise, it is the first thing to do at a crucial moment!
According to the example. This is a Two Way Road.
It goes without saying that fundraising staff should be included in strategic planning sessions, staff retreats, and other organizational meetings. As development director, I also find it important to take my time to organize. Not at the rate the organizers put out for fundraising, but several times each year. It keeps me connected to work to spend time in the field knocking on doors or doing phone-banking.
It’s not something fancy that requires training as a professional organizer, but it’s enough to give you a real picture of the work in the field. And, because I usually “volunteer” during peak campaign season when extra hands are needed most, organizers and members really appreciate it too. It’s good for our relationship and makes us all feel like part of the same team.
My Last Talk
These practices will not work exactly as outlined for every organization. And, transitioning to this model can be a lengthy process. But, you have to start somewhere and the benefits are huge.
Here’s a quick look at what you can expect if you take steps to close the gap between organizing and fundraising:
- More collaboration within your organization.
- More resources dedicated to fundraising.
- A stronger relationship with your donors.
- More volunteers as donors.
- More donors as volunteers.
- More money for work programs.
- A stronger movement for change.