You start the process of becoming a fund-raiser for an organization when you first become involved with the organization. That’s when you begin to acquire knowledge about an organization, and acquisition of knowledge is the first step in preparing to raise money. To sell any product, it is important to know just what the product is and what it does. It makes no difference whether you are a waitress explaining the intricacies of the specials of the day, a computer salesperson pitching the new improved model, or a solicitor in a fund-raising campaign.
If you are the person running a campaign, you must make sure your solicitors have access to information about what the organization is, what it does, and why money is needed in the furtherance of what goals. If you are the person asking for the money, think about how you would go about making your request without that information. Yes, you will on occasion find people who will give because you ask rather than give to the cause, but that is the exception and –this can’t be said often enough—you cannot rely on the exception to support your organization.
New board members should be invited to attend a formal orientation session exposing them to what the organization does, how it is important to the community, why its services are necessary, and what their role will be. Volunteer solicitors in a campaign should be given the same information. Professional development officers need to steep themselves in the workings of the organization from their first day on the job.
Your Mission — It Is Not What You Do, But the Difference You Make in the Lives Of People
No matter what your position or role in an organization’s fund-raising efforts, the mission statement is the single most important thing you must understand. The mission statement outlines the organization’s values and purposes, programs and services, and hopes and dreams — its priorities. Printed on the back of a schedule, gracing the first page of an annual report or emblazoned on a lobby wall, it purports to delineate the whys and wherefores, explain the purpose, and elucidate the value to the community of an organization. It is, or should be, a statement of an organization’s reason for being and its strengths. As such, it is the first statement in the litany of fund-raising.
Making the Case for Support
You can’t make the case for support unless you know your organization’s strengths. Neither can you expect to succeed without an understanding of its weaknesses and perceived negatives. I remember a campaign I worked on during my first year in fund-raising. A hospital was trying to raise money to build a new 200-bed facility to replace its existing 100 beds. Sounds reasonable at first blush. The problem was the hospital only had a 40 percent occupancy rate. Our job was to raise money to add 100 beds to a hospital which already had 60 empty beds. There goes the argument for needed expansion.
However, we understood that seeming weakness in our case and why it existed. As a result, we were able to to eliminate the perception of it as a negative argument against our campaign. The hospital was better than half empty because it was antiquated. Doctors didn’t want to send their patients there. The solution was to build a new hospital, and the community needed the additional 100 modern beds.
My point is this: if your organization has a weakness that can be perceived as a fund-raising negative, you don’t ignore it. You face it head on, take the offensive, and turn it into a fund-raising strength.
New and forming organizations are fraught with weaknesses and perceived fund-raising negatives. To begin with, the community got along without them in the past. How does a new organization know it is needed now? Has it done a market analysis? Is there a compelling reason for the organization to exist and for specific people to support it? The answer to those questions can be found by asking one question, and it is a question every organization new or old must ask at the onset of every fund-raising campaign. It needs to be asked about the organization in general and the specific purpose the campaign is supporting.
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