Focused Fundraising

When I first got into this business, major fundraising campaigns were few and far between. Now, of course, they are ubiquitous, with the Campaign for This, morphing into the Campaign for That, and immediately running into the buildup for the Campaign for the Other Thing.

The reason for this, of course, is because campaigns are successful. There are two main reasons for their success.

First off, everyone gears up for a campaign. Resources are poured into development programs, proving yet again that it costs money to raise money. Staff and leadership buy-in, count heavily into why organizations can raise more money than ever during a campaign.

Even more important, however, is the fact that campaigns are focused.

I’ve worked with and at too many organizations where priorities are not clearly identified. That results in what I have elegantly begun to call “Pig in a Poke” fundraising. In effect, you are told to go out and raise whatever you can.

This takes the concept of donor centered fundraising to extremes. Instead of the organization developing needs based on forwarding the mission, the donor gets to make contributions based on whatever floats their particular boat.

The danger, of course, is that their boat may be tied up to a very different marina than the one your organization belongs to. While you need funding to enhance programs that help your clients or constituents, the funding you get may fund a program that is orthogonal or off to the side of what is important and necessary for your mission.

Donors are not, however, the villains here. They are generally genuinely trying to help you to do good. In a vacuum, all sorts of things rush in. If you don’t define what you need, you will get what the donor wants.

As someone who has been on the front lines of fundraising, the big monster that I see in unfocused fundraising is the difficulty it presents in approaching prospects. A generic “this is what we do” conversation goes just so far. Even when a prospect is jazzed, even if the prospect is a current or recent donor, at some point you need to turn the conversation to a gift. “Whatever floats your boat,” is not a good solicitation tactic.

Nor is it a good idea to be vague about the amount you are asking a prospect to give. There are all kinds of studies out there that point to the fact that you will do better if you ask for a specific amount than if you simply ask for a gift. You might not get what you ask for, but the odds of getting something are far greater.

Focus and specificity are two of the underrated strengths in a fundraiser’s toolkit. The more a prospect can understand how his or her gift will make a difference, and the clearer they are about how much of a gift it will take to make this difference happen, the easier it is to turn that prospect into a donor.

If you make sure that you report back to that donor on the success of their gift, and talk to them from time to time without asking for anything, the more likely it will be that this donor will become a repeat donor, probably at a higher level of giving.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at