Values Based Fundraising

In 1988, I fell into a fundraising job and felt that I quite literally had died and gone to heaven. What could be better than to spend my days with interesting people, learning about their dreams and desires, sharing stories about my institution, and giving them an opportunity to fulfill their aspirations by supporting the work we did? It was quite a shock to discover that most people thought I was a very sick woman.

Most people do not look upon fundraising as a joy, nor do they feel that they are giving others an opportunity when they ask them to make a gift or buy a ticket for an event or in any other way support the work the organization does.

In fact, for most people, fundraising is onerous at best. They feel, when forced to engage, that they are “hitting on” the other person, begging, or doing something somehow shameful.

But fundraising is a part of being involved with a nonprofit and for that organization to succeed everyone—from the person who answers the phone to board members—must be a fundraiser.

For board members and most other volunteers, the big problem is that the people they need to ask are their friends. And that creates two distinct problems—it impinges (or feels like it does) on the friendship and, when their friend says yes, as they will, it will be because that friend expects a quid pro quo—that is, that the person asking will then buy tickets for their organization’s gala or support their organization in some other way.

The first issue really is just a problem in the volunter’s head; the second comes directly from that. So instead of inserting fundraising onto friendship where both have to say yes or your friendship is compromised, volunteers must be very clear what the conversation is to be about.

Clarity of Purpose:

“Hi Friend, I’m calling you with my fundraising hat on.”

And because this is a friend, the person calling--as an Ambassador for the organization—has undoubtedly spoken with her about the organization and the work itdo. The volunteer knows what part of that resonates with her. If that’s not a true statement, ask your board members to think about why—and how they can change that. A big big part of being a board member is to spread the word. And that is fundraising. Because no one will hug you if they don’t know you.

Focused on the ask and MONEY

I also think that part of the problem is that fundraising is focused on the ask—and the ask is focused on money.

Our relationship to money is even more dysfunctional than our relationship to our families.


But what if, instead of asking anyone FOR something, you have your board members focus on values—theirs and the person you hope will support your organization. What if, instead of asking that person to give money, they are asked to consider these values and how the organization shares and spreads them?

Try this. Ask your board members to think about a value that matters to them and then consider how your organization embodies that value. Have them talk about your organization from a values point of view. Put them in teams, and ask them to first pretend this is an introductory meeting and talk about your organization focusing on values. See if they can elicit a value that the other person holds dear.

Now ask them to assume they are at the point of solicitation. Again, speak from values. Talk about how the gift will help the donor to share her values; to spread them.

The conversations will—I guarantee—be lively and exciting. And your board members will begin to see that fundraising really is about making a difference and that will feel different (and better!) to them.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and strengthen nonprofit boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free newsletter.