Stop Doing These Things

March 24, 2023

There are many ways to be a successful fundraiser. There are loads of websites, articles and books explaining the steps you should go through for your fundraising efforts to be fruitful. (I have written many myself!) I would like to take this opportunity to address some things that you may be doing that you should stop immediately. These are all warning signs that you or your organization may have troubles ahead.

Raising your salary

If you have to “make your own dinner”–raise your own salary, then the organization is likely not ready for a professional fundraiser. There should be warning bells going off for you if this is the case. Some organizations are just testing the waters regarding hiring fundraising staff. That, in and of itself, is fine. There should be, however, funds set aside to pay the incumbent fundraiser so that they can focus on the task at hand. Additionally, it is reasonable to expect this new initiative to take time. It is totally unrealistic to go from $0 to $100k in three months.

Sole source funding

You want to address all fundraising revenue streams so that you have a balanced fundraising program. Just as you don’t want all of your funds to come solely from one revenue stream like events, you also don’t want all of your revenue to come from one person/corporation/foundation. If (when) that source of funding transitions away from your organization, you will have a gaping, and perhaps insurmountable, hole to fill. If 5-10% of your funding is from one constituent, you may have serious issues in the future.

The passion myth

Passion doesn’t drive the donation. Fundraising is both an art and a science. I wrote about that here. Just because someone is passionate about the cause, it doesn’t necessarily make them a good fundraiser. Moreover, passion doesn’t pay the bills. So, pay your folks appropriately–of course, they’re passionate about the cause. That shouldn’t be a reason to underpay them.

Throwing out a net

Far too often, I have seen nonprofits throw out a huge net and hope that they snare “a big fish”. That is not the best way to find good, qualified prospects. Rather, a good first step might be to look at LYBUNT (Last Year But Unfortunately Not This) and SYBUNT (Some Year But Unfortunately Not This) for your better qualified prospects.

We’ve always done it that way

This statement is the bane of my existence — I’m sure you can visualize the steam coming out of my ears as I hear this statement. I always question the status quo. A good first step might be to evaluate your fundraising activities. Small nonprofits have to be much more efficient than larger ones. They do not have the luxury of noble failure (most times).

When you decide on an activity, figure out why are you doing this activity and what response you hope to achieve. Reverse engineering any fundraising effort is usually a great first step in determining the correct process.

Seeing corporations as the Holy Grail

Many boards focus heavily on sponsorship and corporate philanthropy as the main source of revenue generation. The typical justification for this view is that “companies have lots of money” or that “company X gives away a ton of money every year.” We can perceive it as easier to ask companies for money than people. It’s also less personal–who really knows Jeff Bezos anyway?

Companies invest money in charities,­ but always to achieve a certain aim. Even if your request is small, companies will expect a return on their investment. Sometimes, the large company will ignore small requests because they don’t offer a big enough impact. At the end of the day, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, not necesssrily to your charity.

Should you be approaching companies for money? Absolutely! But not at the expense of your other forms of fundraising. Stop thinking that a successful application will have a lottery-­like impact on your charity.

We’re too small

This stems from the belief that in order to attract donors and sponsors to an event or campaign, you need to have 10,000 people present. Think more about who attends your events instead of how many. I have worked with charities running events that attract 100 people or fewer. These charities were convinced that they didn’t have an audience to attract sponsors and so they never pursued it.

In one case, after some analysis, we determined that all 100 people at an event were young professionals in a major city. What did this group have in common? An above average income and most had a desire to buy a new house in the short term. One hundred warm prospects, all looking to buy $500,000 homes, is an incredibly valuable asset to real estate companies, lawyers and accountants… and that’s who we went to for sponsorship.

Instead of focusing on the number of attendees, stop and think about who is coming to your events, what they care about and who wants to market to them.


I cannot guarantee that you will raise more money if you stop doing these seven things. I can guarantee you, however, that the likelihood of raising more money increases if you stop doing these things. There is no such thing as a magic bullet in fundraising and I would suggest that any good fundraising shop has well-balanced revenue streams and is managing realistic expectations.

Until next week.