Breaking Down Fundraising Barriers

Whenever I talk with Boards about the barriers they face in fundraising, it all comes down to act of asking someone for money.  There is the fear of being told no; the fear that the person they are asking will actually say yes (meaning that sometime in the not too distant future, they will have to say yes to that person).  There is fear of overstepping the boundaries of friendship.  It’s embarrassing to ask for money.  It’s hard.  It’s uncomfortable.  And, frankly, it’s just not something that most Board members want to do. But fundraising is rather more than asking.  And supporting an organization can mean more than only giving a cash gift.

While we use the words “fundraising” and “development” pretty interchangeably, they really are quite different.  Fundraising is a part of development; whereas development comprises many other elements.

The most important of these is building relationships—making prospects feel an ownership in the mission of the organization.

The first and possibly most important step is identifying those individuals and organizations you have reason to believe can and would make a gift of time, talent or treasure, to your organization.  And then helping your organization reach out to them in the most effective way.

Once you’ve identified these people/organizations, you actually have to engage with them—and, frankly, this is often the hardest part.  If you only had to involve them once, it’s not hard to figure out good ways to do that.  But for more major, thoughtful gifts, you may have to “touch” them once a month or so for many months.  And after you’ve had a meeting, what else can you do?  Honestly, there are just so many reasons to make a call, invite someone to coffee, take them on a tour.

You can, do more impersonal things.  Make sure they are on the mailing list.  Send them a note about something that just happened at the organization.  Introduce them to someone else at the organization or someone else who is involved in some way, shape or form.  One way to look at this—and find new ways to cultivate—is to consider what would benefit the prospect, rather than what would benefit you.

And here I will get up on one of my favorite hobby-horses:  Attitude.  It really does matter. You are not hitting on someone, begging for money, or doing something that is not in the prospect’s best interest.  You are—really, truly, honestly—providing these people and organizations with opportunities to be involved with the amazing work your organization does.

Don’t think you do amazing work?  Maybe you are working at/volunteering for the wrong organization.

At some point, the person or organization is ready to be invited to the next step—that of investing in your organization.

For many, this ask is the hardest part.  But if you’ve cultivated well, you’ll find that it is just another conversation about their commitment to the cause.  And once they’ve made a commitment, it is your job to keep connecting the dots for them by thanking them for their generosity and showing them how their gift helped to make their vision and their desires reality.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity, build stronger boards and more passionate donors.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for her free monthly newsletter.