This week I’ve had two conversations with founders of nonprofits. I’ve had to tell both the unwelcome truth: you’re going to have to do the fundraising yourself.
This was a bitter pill for both of them. You see, they’d created their nonprofit because of their passion. They saw a need and they filled it. And they love what they do.
But filling that need takes money.
Both founders had hired people to do the fundraising for them. And both founders were pretty upset that neither were as effective as they had been. After all, they’d given their employee the same list they used, hadn’t they? What was the problem.
The biggest problem in each case was that the founders put off asking as long as they could. And they were a bit put off that they even needed to ask. Wasn’t their cause self-evident? Neither had really factored fundraising into their original plans. So they only did it when the need was most pressing. They paid many of the costs out of their own resources.
By the time they hired their new employees, they were behind the eight ball, desperately in need of money. And they had unrealistic expectations. They didn’t realize how steep the learning curve would be for their new employees. They just thought the funding problem would be magically fixed.
The reality is they still had to do the fundraising themselves.
I see similar situations come up in the way some people hire consultants. They have a money problem, so they hire a consultant to come in and raise a lot of money to fix it. They have a hole that needs filling so they hire someone to fill it but they don’t want to learn how to stop digging the hole.
(That, by the way, is why I don’t do consulting. There are a lot of wonderful consultants that are amazingly good at raising money. But when I’ve done it, it’s been a thankless task. I’d prefer to work with people that want to learn. That is also why I wrote Ask Without Fear, to give people a low-cost way to learn to do waht all nonprofits need to do.)
If you’re the founder of a nonprofit, or even a CEO or Executive Director, you will have to fundraise. No matter how wonderful your staff is, you have a unique way of telling the story. And donors want to hear from you.
You can hire an amazing staff, and a great coach :), but you’re still going to have to do some of the fundraising yourself.
And you can have a really good time doing it. Honestly!
One of the things that often frustrate me is when directors of small and midsize nonprofits are not passionate about telling the story of their mission. It’s almost as if they are afraid that they feel it’s not professional to be excited about what you do. In some cases, passion is contagious let’s stop being afraid to show it.
Thanks for this post. As the newest staff member at a small nonprofit, I appreciate the reminder that even though I’m technically the development person, I’m not in charge of fundraising. It takes some of the crushing pressure off me!
You are so right! I was having this same conversation yesterday … an organization needs passion AND money to make the difference they want to make.
I also agree that (1) organizations can learn (and quickly) how to get the funding results they want and (2) it can be FUN!
Thanks for the post!
Kristy: You’re so right. This CAN be fun!
Susan: I wonder if they share some handbook with folks that says “enthusiasm is unprofessional”!! 🙂
I’d like to change it to “enthusiasm is contagious!”
Elizabeth: I’m having the make that transition at the hospital I work at. I was hired as the technician, the fundraising guy.
Now I have people wanting me to get them in situations to ask. It’s a GREAT place to be. But I’m having to be a coordinator of solicitiations rather than a technician.
Sure hope I don’t have to give up asking all together! 🙂
Your article is right on point about “The reality is they still had to do the fundraising themselves.”, I was looking into fundraising and found your site after the horrible experience I just had helping my twins raise money for their school (I realize a little off topic but close).
However after reading your article it is very insightful not only for fundraising but for any small company and “revenue”. In most small companies the founder has to initially bring in the lions share of revenue and the hiring/training and obtaining success from others is not easy and as you pointed out can take a while.
I would hope a lesson learned from your article it to start training someone (if you are going to) early and often and it is a hand holding on the job training task.
Thanks Brian. Great comments.
Although my heart did skip a beat seeing “your site” and “horrible” in the same sentence! Glad the horrible referred to another organization. (Although I’m sorry you had that experience!) 🙂
I agree, these principles are very applicable to founders of small companies too!