I originally wanted to call this fundraising secret: Don’t be a jerk—business people often don’t have liquid assets.

That seems to get the message across more bluntly.

I’m amazed at how poorly we treat business owners. Especially sole-proprietors. We approach them in ways we wouldn’t dream of approaching our other donors. With entitlement, bordering on a lack of civility.

A few years back, I had two interactions with business owners in the same city. Both were bitterly upset with the presumption shown by the nonprofits that approached them for support. Sheer impudence.

In their minds, the nonprofits seemed to think they had a moral right to the money they imagined these business men had. These men owed it. That was the way both were approached by many local nonprofits. Not on the merits of the cause. But some misguided Robin Hood myth. As though working for a nonprofit was morally “better” than merely running a “for profit.”


Business owners have often risked more than most of us would ever imagine. They go without so their employees can eat. They are on the hook for everything. They’re not paid until the bills are. We need men and women like this in all of our communities.

From our perspective, they may seem well off. But much of their assets are tied up in “things”—retail establishments, equipment, loans. They may be asset rich, but are often “cash poor.”
That’s why many prefer to give gifts-in-kind. They often simply don’t have the cash on hand.

So read some books on entrepreneurship. Get to know business owners. Ask them what it’s like to be an employer.

And do ask them for money for your cause. But please don’t be belligerent.

Our communities need both for-profit businesses and nonprofit ones.

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