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Matt Beem
Kinetic Fundraising, Inc.

Fundraisers play important role helping community

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Which came first – philanthropy or fundraising?

My clients and I volley the questions back and forth each month.

Some donors are self-motivated. They support their Boy Scout troop because they believe in Scouting. They give to their PTA to enrich their children’s education. They spring for their alma mater to ensure their name’s listed in the alumni magazine.

If you’re such a philanthropist, thanks. You make my job easier.

The challenge for fundraising isn’t that some in our society give of their own volition. It’s that most in the profession are satisfied with such giving, lulling themselves into believing they were essential facilitators of the over-the-transom support that constitutes the majority of many institutions’ philanthropy.

There is a better way. And the Adult Development Center (ADC), a sheltered workshop in Rogers, Ark., has figured it out.

ADC is raising $6.6 million to buy land, construct a building and expand its endowment. Its campaign has secured $5 million in gifts and pledges, and $1.5 million in open asks remain before likely donors with more priority prospects in the wings.

The magnitude of ADC’s campaign becomes clear when you evaluate it alongside the organization’s non-campaign fundraising, an analysis I conducted during a recent meeting with its executive director and director of development. Excluding campaign gifts, ADC raises about $120,000 a year through its annual fund and special events.

Not bad for a low-overhead, grassroots organization in Northwest Arkansas dedicated to improving the lives of adults with special needs.

On the other hand, if staff and volunteer leaders had waited for that volume of gifts to reach the $6.6 million mark, their 55-year-long campaign would just be starting.

You get my point. So do ADC’s top-notch executive director and director of development, whose committed and capable campaign cabinet did four specific things to blaze their 36-month trail of fundraising success:

  • First, they identified those in their community with the capacity to give significantly to their campaign. Then they created and carried out tailored strategies to educate and encourage them to give more than they would otherwise.

  • Next, they asked for specific gifts. For many, this is the most difficult part of fundraising. But in ADC’s and other successful campaigns, it’s essential to success.

  • Third, ADC campaign workers developed and executed concrete follow-up strategies that kept the authority over and control of open asks in their hands. They refused to leave blank pledge cards with donors or follow up solicitations via voice- or e-mail; instead, they retained the right to follow up personally.

  • Finally, they closed gifts. It’s the toughest part of major gift fundraising and the reason many campaigns fail. Asking is only the first step; closing completes the cycle.

So which came first? Philanthropy or fundraising?

Though I have my opinion, we’ll never know the answer. What is certain is that philanthropy expands when good fundraising occurs: ADC will raise its $6.6 million in 1/18th the amount of time it would have taken at its typical $120,000-a-year clip.

It’s important to acknowledge effective fundraisers for the increased efficiency and expanded philanthropy their intangible-yet-essential work brings nonprofit organizations.

Take a minute to pat your favorite fundraiser on the back the next time you can.

> Matt Beem Bio