Fundraising’s Not About Money (Shocker!)


People who don’t understand fundraising think it is this!

Have I confused you already?

Guess what – after almost 30 years in the business, I will stand before you today firmly and tell you that fundraising is emphatically NOT about money.

In fact, if you make it all about money,  you probably have just shot yourself in the foot. You’re gonna get turned down more often than not.

The Dark Side of Fundraising

Yup, fundraising has a dark side.  A yucky dark side.

That’s when you are all about the money.

When you treat your donors like ATMs, you dirty your work.  When you are talking money, money, money,  you are on the wrong track.

Have you ever heard a donor say, “We feel like an ATM?” That means you are doing it WRONG!

The Magnificent Side of Fundraising

Fundraising has a magnificent side – where you are standing high up on the hill, white light shining all around you, taking a stand for your fellow human beings.

It’s so funny – one activity (fundraising) can be construed as totally demeaning (ever heard someone talk about “begging for money?” I can’t stand that!)

The magnificent side of fundraising is when you take a stand for a better world.

The magnificent side of fundraising is when you take a stand for a better world.

Or fundraising can be considered one of the most important and magnificent things a person can ever do.

Fundraisers are garnering resources to relieve suffering, help people, and give them opportunity, hope, and safety. To nurture our lovely planet.

Wow. Sign me up for that!

That’s where I want to spend my life’s energy! How about you?

So don’t let people get away with thinking that fundraising is begging. It’s emphatically NOT!

A Fundraising Lesson from my Yoga Teacher

I walked into my yoga class at the YMCA where I work out. And Julie, my ethereal yoga teacher, was just chatting with the class in her lilting voice.

Julie gushed to us, “Class! Guess what! The Y is having our ‘We Build People Campaign’ right now – and we are SENDING KIDS TO CAMP!”

She was sooooo excited about these kids going to camp. And it was genuine.

Make it about the people the donor is helping!

Make it about the people the donor is helping!

In fact, pretty soon she had us all excited about these kids as she shared what kids get to do at camp and how important it is for them.

Then she made a joyful, happy, hopeful ask. She said, “I want my class to send ONE KID to camp! – it’s only $90 and I bet we can do it!”

Julie was so joyful and so excited that her enthusiasm was infectious.

It’s hard to convey her happy tone of voice in writing – but I want you to just imagine. We were all rushing to make a contribution.

Did we feel like she wanted our money? NO!  We felt like we were helping someone and it felt sooooo good!

Take fundraising away from “money” and make it about something happy – the result.

Take the discussion AWAY from “How much money we are asking you for.”  INSTEAD create a NEW discussion called “How do we help send a kid to camp.”

You moved the fundraising talk away from “money” and put it in terms of “people.”

You can create magic with this approach – and you can galvanize the troops.

All the studies say that donors will give more then you ask for something specific.

Get over this "begging" mentality!

Get over this “begging” mentality!

Strengthen your ask by making it about the people you are helping. Use my MPI Fundraising Formula. 

Put it in terms of those people. IT MUST BE SPECIFIC.

Examples: how to take it away from money and make it instead about the purpose:

  • We need to raise $500 this fall so we can do xxx, yyy, or zzz in the community.
  • Please give to help run xxxx programs that help yyy people.
  • Please contribute xxx to help the ballet company stage its fall productions, which cost $150k each.
  • We are raising xxxx money to buy band instruments for yyyy kids. Each instrument costs an average of zzzzz.
  • It will cost $20k to help the rape victims who turn to us in August.
  • We are seeking a total of $40k for a new staff counselor so we won’t have to turn people away.
  • We need a new roof that costs xxxx so that we can offer kids a safe, sound school.
  • We want to give 100 more kids in the community a big brother or a big sister.  Will your church or organization sponsor 5 kids for $5,000?

These are all ways to frame an ask in a joyful, compelling way that connects the donor with a happy outcome or result.

This is the way to create a joyful donor – who understands that her money is going to an important, urgent purpose!

OK so what do you think?

Leave me a comment or a question!

  • Joe Daly

    Spot on as usual, Gail. Thanks for keeping this “front of mind” for all of us.

  • artinaction

    This is very helpful and a good reminder of why fundraisers do what they do. Thanks!

  • K Devlin Culver

    I had this exact experience this week. I facilitated a phone meeting between a corporate funder and two enthusiastic graduate student researchers who had just received an underwritten grant. The students so excitedly shared about the work they are undertaking….that they “made the ask” for me. It’s so gratifying when donors see their gifts “in action”!

  • gailperry

    Hi Devlin! You are so right – we make it difficult for ourselves by pushing the money rather than the excitement of helping people! Thanks for sharing. This was a terrific addition!

  • gailperry

    Thx Joe!

  • gailperry

    Thx and let’s also remember where we need to be focusing all the time!

  • HomeAid

    Gail – I agree with your premise that fundraising is NOT about the money – it’s the result of the work and time spent cultivating people who support the cause. However, in your list of Examples above, I would even take the money out of those a little more by starting with with the end result:
    XXX% kids in our community are not able to participate in ZZZ this Fall due to lack of resources. Make a donation to ABC Org to help us raise $500 so that more kids can experience the benefits of ZZZ this year.

  • gailperry

    LOVE your suggestion! Thanks so much for offering! Gail

  • Jerry Sinclair

    Gail, I had a seed donor and “friend” give me $500 at my first ‘start-up’ meeting with him. Now, I was excited to have a friend help get me started with a sizable gift – thinking the money would continue to flow from him.

    After several thank you notes, emails and phone calls, I contacted him again to bring him up-to-date and possibly gauge his interest in systematic giving. For some reason, he went into a diatribe that belittled me and our ministry by saying I was ‘begging’ for money. He said I was too talented to be ‘begging’ for money and should be on the speaking circuit charging a lot of money for my ‘expertise’. I thanked him for the advice and moved on.

    I sent him another letter, asking for his help in sending a constituent to a workshop. When I made a followup call a few days later, he went into another speech about me begging for money. I concluded that this man was a ‘seed’ giver and that was good. I needed that seed money in 2007 and we have moved on. I send him an email update every quarter and that is the last we have mentioned my ministry in conversation.

  • gailperry

    Sounds like you need to “bless and release” this person. Let him go. And be happy that he is not beating you up anymore.

  • Jessica

    Hi Gail, my supervisor recommended your blog to me – it’s great! PS – I’m also in Raleigh and I think we go to the same yoga class at the Alexander Y 🙂 Julie is great!

  • ChrissyS

    So how do you work this for political fundraising when you are asking for money for yourself to run your campaign to get re-elected? What are your suggestions then?