SOFII's Blog - interesting fundraising trends and ideas from around the world

SOFII is an online archive of fundraising best practice and creativity. It is filled with an ever expanding array of easily accessible exhibits, articles, videos, opinion pieces, hints and tips, book reviews and recommendations. The SOFII blog is a place for us to share some thoughts and ideas that might not have an obvious home on the SOFII website. It’s also a place for us to invite guest bloggers to share their views. If you’d like to contribute to our blog please get in touch with

Friday, 17 June 2011

Dabbling in fundraising won't get you there

By Christiana Stergiou

Organisations that take up fundraising in a casual, half-hearted or even superficial way, I call ‘dabblers’.

Definition of dabble: to take part in an activity in a superficial or casual way.

Recently, I've come across a number of dedicated people who care about their organisations but have no fundraising experience. They dabble. And that’s fine if you're a local sports club or community group with small funding needs, or you only need a couple of dozen donors, or $25k a year.

But dabbling in fundraising only gets you so far. If you require significant, strategic revenue for your work, dabbling in fundraising will not get you to where you want or need to be. In fact, it may even hinder you.

Nonprofit organisations that dabble in fundraising are usually doomed to a vicious cycle of fundraising ineffectively, never having enough money to get ahead and urgently needing to try and raise more. Eventually the organisation that dabbles gets to a point where they have to make serious decisions. I think that in such a situation there are two options. Fundraise properly. Or don't fundraise at all.

Why might you say no to fundraising?

· Fundraising is not easy. There is a perception held by many organisations that don’t raise money from the public, or that ‘dabble’, that fundraising is the easy solution. It is not.

· Fundraising is not free, nor is it very cheap. Effective fundraising costs money. It requires investment and often for the long term. It is not a quick fix. Normally, money that is invested now may not see any return for at least an entire year.

· Fundraising can be scary. Effective fundraising strategies and tactics often require some level of risk, something to which boards and senior managers are usually averse. This is more the case for those who have relied on government funding for years on end. Now a change is terribly frightening.

· Fundraising is not fair. If you don’t have a cause that appeals to the broad public, or perhaps to many people at all, you’ll find it even harder than most to fundraise. Although, that in itself is not a barrier to fundraising; even if you don't have a 'sexy' cause, you might find that you have supporters that care strongly about what you do.

Here are just some of the options I think you could choose ahead of fundraising.

· Get a loan from a benefactor or the bank. Have a business plan to pay it back.

· If you’re running social businesses that are meant to make a profit and fund your charitable works, then make sure they are making the profit they should. Don’t fundraise to prop up unprofitable business activities.

· Invest your money wisely and use the interest you achieve (sometimes doing this will show more of a return then spending the same money ‘dabbling’ in fundraising).

· Don’t fundraise from the public. Spend more time and effort on your government grants and philanthropic trusts and foundations – these are two of the largest sources of income for the nonprofit sector. Work on becoming a sustainable organisation beyond these sources of funding. There are experts out there who specialise in this type of fundraising alone. This is often the most beneficial investment for organisations already dependent on such income.

Dabbling in fundraising is not a plan. In Mal Warwick’s The Five Strategies for Fundraising Success – the best book that I have read about fundraising planning – he argues that there are only five fundraising strategies: growth, involvement, visibility, efficiency and stability (GIVES). You can’t have a fundraising plan that does it all. You really need to choose only one or two of these and focus on them.

For example, right now, a few of the nonprofits I work with have a growth + involvement strategy. That is, their primary strategy is growth (lots more donors, giving lots more money), and a secondary strategy of involvement (more people involved in their cause and mission). The aim is that within five years they may be able to achieve a stability-driven plan (that they will one day know where most of the money they need is coming from each year).

Another important concept that Mal covers in his book is that of opportunity cost. This is the money you would have made if only you'd done things right. Dabbling in fundraising can result in you spending time on the wrong things and things that won't lead to long-term sustainability. When considered carefully, opportunity cost may well drive you to outsource some areas of fundraising to established experts, such as those who specialise in grant funding or direct mail and concentrate your own efforts on 'only doing what only you can do'.

If you want to fundraise, don't dabble. Get serious about fundraising. Invest; plan for the long term. Plan for the day when your organisation knows, year after year, where most of your money will come from.

Now that would be a wonderful day.


  1. Great post - and a conversation I've had with many organisations during my time as a consultant. Many want to raise income and immediately think 'fundraising' without taking into account the fact that it costs money, time and resources. And of course, are bored by the thought that they need to plan and invest - which is exactly what they do in other aspects of the organisation. I have, however, noticed that more organisations are now recognising the need to plan effective fundraising programmes as their need to diversify income has grown. Long may that trend continue!

  2. Interesting that you say to go to Foundations and Government, as many other say that those are some the hardest places to get money.

  3. I think a lot of people go into fundraising not realizing how complex it really is. There's more to it than going up to people and asking for money. It takes TONS of planning and it really needs to be exact in order to work successfully. Only the people who do fundraising can really fully appreciate what all goes into it

  4. Thanks Heather, TZ and Kyle for your comment!

  5. Thanks for this post Christiana. This is very useful for showing clients (it coming from someone else in print so often does the trick ;)