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Some time ago I spoke with a non-profit executive who gave me some great news. She had been talking to an influential person in the community who asked her a simple question.

“If you could do one thing to expand the work you’re doing in the community, what would it be?”

His immediate response was “Invest in fundraising so that our income is sustainable.”

The way the executive explains it, as soon as those words left her, she became concerned because she thought a better response would have been to hire a program officer or some other activity that would have directly impacted the programmatic work of the organization.


A couple of days passed without another word from the influential person. The next week, the nonprofit executive got a call and was the community leader again. He wanted to follow up on her question by asking how much she would invest in fundraising. The executive was someone who has always been at the top of her game, and she immediately responded that with a $200,000 donation, she could hire additional staff and develop a larger fundraising program, which would help her charity grow and be more profitable. widespread and sustainable impact.

The community influencer thanked her and then politely chatted with her about the good work her nonprofit was doing. Once the executive got off the phone, after making an appointment to meet with him and talk more about the organization, she set out to do some research. She knew that the gentleman had not been a donor or supporter of the charity, but she felt that there was something of interest to him in the organization and his mission.

the gift

One of the best aspects of working with individuals is that you never know when they are going to surprise you. When the executive arrived at the meeting, the influential community member got right to the point. He offered her $150,000 to invest in her development team and then asked her to use the gift as a challenge to other donors to raise the additional $50,000 that would bring her to the $200,000 he needed.

She was overwhelmed by the generosity, especially from someone who had not been a donor to the organization. In her conversation, she explained that her son was addicted and although she wanted to “save” her son, she also understood that if she could help other parents in a similar situation, that would also be important.

Why fundraising and not programs

The donor explained that when the executive first told him that if he had additional funds he would spend them on fundraising, it was a response he did not expect. Also, from a business perspective, he said it made sense. He understood, as a businessman and philanthropist in the community, that hospitals, universities, and cultural organizations were scrambling to invest in his operation, including marketing and fundraising. He also knew that it was essential for smaller nonprofits to follow that path because it helped create streams of donor income, which supported the organizations’ ongoing work within the community.

As he explained it, there was a direct link between increased spending on marketing and fundraising and eventual funding for programs. So, as he saw it, even though he wasn’t donating directly to the programs, the “investment” he was making would help the organization gain and develop other donors, which in turn would help generate money for the organization. programmatic work.

stroke of luck

While many nonprofits don’t have the luck and good fortune that the organization I’m writing about today did in getting a sophisticated donor who wants to direct a donation toward fundraising, the reality is that smaller community organizations And the donors are, in fact, understanding what the big institutions have known for a long time. There has to be an investment in the institutional capacity of a charity, especially in marketing and fundraising.

There are ways you can start tilling the ground for your supporters to give more to your annual fund or directly to capacity building.

  1. Let your supporters know how your non-program funds are being spent. Be transparent.
  2. Develop a plan and help your champions, especially your board members, understand why your organization needs to invest in organizational infrastructure, particularly marketing and fundraising.
  3. Research and understand industry benchmarks on the topic of nonprofit capacity building and sustainability.

Finally, if you get pushback from board members or don’t have enough traction, consider recruiting board members and champions for your organization who also understand the connection between fundraising and the sustainability of your organization. Make sure you have this issue as a regular topic of conversation at your board meetings and with influential donors. And, if you find an opportunity to attract money that will go directly to developing your marketing and fundraising efforts, create a strategy to go out and ask for it.

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