Back to Basics Fundraising

“Back-to-Basics Approach Helps Charities Weather the Bad Economy” touted the headline.  I laughed.  I couldn’t help myself.  It’s not that I think the basics are not important and viable.  They are and I do.  But I also know that for too many nonprofit organizations there are no basics to get back to.  That is, these organizations haven’t been approaching fundraising in any methodical, productive fashion.  It’s hit and miss, let’s do this, no try that, or an over-dependence on one technique—generally that means writing a grant or having an event. I’m not pointing fingers at the nonprofits or the fundraising staff, too many of whom were thrust into this role without any formal training or clarity on the part of their bosses.  I am suggesting that what is needed is an understanding of the basics of fundraising and, even more, an understanding by nonprofit leaders that fundraising is serious business and should be treated as such.

For too long, fundraising has been the step-child of the nonprofit world.  Except for some very large organizations—typically universities and hospitals—we think of fundraising as fundraising.  We assume that someone who is socially adept comes ready to raise money from a wide variety of individuals and organizations in a wider variety of ways.  These ways range from a direct mail appeal to a face-to-face solicitation to writing a proposal for a $100,000 grant and putting on an event.  And doing all this without much support.

Beyond that, this person may be expected to write all communication materials, manage the donor database, implement a social media program, staff the Board in their fundraising efforts and, too often, run some other not-quite-related program.

Back-to-basics would mean that organizations understand that the different types of fundraising often require different skills.  They certainly required resources and support form the nonprofits’ leadership.

A back-to-basics approach would start with the knowledge that fundraising is not an episode but, rather, a process.  Like all processes, it requires time, the right tools and resources in order to reach a certain result.

For fundraising, that process consists of the actions that identify viable prospects, gather pertinent information about those prospects then, in a variety of ways, get those prospects interested and involved about your organization and mission.  Once they are connected, they are given an opportunity to invest their time, their talent and especially their treasure to help you meet your mission.

The process, however, doesn’t stop there.  Indeed, some (and I include myself in this group) believe that the process is just getting started.  Keeping those donors involved and invested is arguably the most important part of fundraising.

Other words for basic include essential, fundamental, necessary, critical, crucial.  Basics are the key elements, the indispensable ingredient.  That, alas, is not a technique, an action, a magic bullet.    Some basics are universal:  thinking of needs from your clients’ point of view; putting your donors first; making sure that all actions fit your mission.  How you meet these basics, however, is very specific to your organization and, especially the people who sustain you.

Get back to basics, yes.  But do so by looking not just through your eyes for what is key but through the eyes of those whose support you are looking to gain.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, staff and board members to help them increase their fund raising abilities.  Learn more at