Demystifying 10 Common Nonprofit Fundraising Myths

Like many other things in life, fundraising is about mindset. Join us as we debunk 10 prevalent fundraising myths and provide insights into effective strategies for nonprofit fundraising. Learn the truth behind these misconceptions and optimize your fundraising efforts for long-term success.

Fundraising myths

Fundraising Myth 1: Fundraising is only about cash

The truth: Fundraising is more than asking. It’s more of a relationship-building journey than anything else.

Money is not the only form of support you can seek. Support can also come in the form of people donating time or manufactured goods or food or space or a host of other things that furthers the work of the organization.

We use the term in-kind donations to describe those that are not cash. In the end, are you just successful if you get the things that the cash was supposed to purchase?

Here’s an example, Anita wants to start a school and she needs to be donated temporary space and equipment. She can ask for cash but receiving donated space, computers, desks, and chairs, Is also a success with the same result.

In many communities, cash is scarce, but the things cash can buy are not. Remember this important caveat. In-kind gifts are only valuable if you can use them.

Tips on utilizing and managing in-kind donations

  • Clearly define your organization’s needs and priorities to identify specific in-kind donations that would be valuable.
  • Develop partnerships with local businesses, community organizations, and individuals who can provide the needed resources.
  • Create a system for tracking and inventory management of in-kind donations to ensure efficient utilization and avoid waste.
  • Publicly acknowledge and thank donors of in-kind gifts to foster ongoing support and strengthen relationships.

Fundraising Myth 2: Raising money is only about asking

The truth: fundraising is about more than getting cash. Donated items that you need – labor, equipment, facilities, etc. can be of equal value if you can use them.

Far from it! The ask is but a single moment in the gifting continuum. Before it can ever take place, the cultivation phase is essential to forge a personal and emotional bond between the donor and the mission of the non-profit.

More than anything else, this is a business of relationship building. Board members and volunteers can contribute mightily to resource development success without ever having to ask for a gift.

Strategies for cultivating relationships with donors

  • Research and understand your potential donors’ interests, values, and philanthropic motivations.
  • Engage in personalized communication, such as handwritten notes or phone calls, to establish a personal connection.
  • Provide opportunities for donors to get involved beyond financial contributions, such as volunteering or attending events.
  • Regularly update donors on the impact of their contributions and express gratitude for their support.
  • Develop a donor stewardship plan that includes touchpoints throughout the year to maintain relationships and foster ongoing engagement.

Fundraising Myth 3: Raising money is all about knowing rich people

The truth: you don't have to know rich people to be an effective fundraiser. Most people start with family or friends.

It’s tempting to think that to be a good fundraiser you need to know the filthy rich. If you have friends and family, then you can probably start a fundraising program. Remember, it’s about finding supporters as many as you can who can spread the word.

Each time you find a person who will support you, that person has family, friends, colleagues, and/or business associates and the circle can get ever wider. Remember the more donors you have the more funding You can get. And the more donors you can find the more prospects they will lead you to. Eventually, they will lead to the wealthy people you thought you didn’t know.

Some fundraising programs start in the simplest of ways, and at a low-risk level. Think of thousands of appeals made on Facebook or Twitter, and they end up generating millions of dollars in days or months.

Techniques for expanding donor networks beyond personal connections

  • Leverage social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, to reach a broader audience and share your fundraising message.
  • Encourage existing supporters to become ambassadors by asking them to share your fundraising appeals with their networks.
  • Host community events or workshops to raise awareness about your organization and attract new potential donors.
  • Collaborate with other like-minded organizations or community groups to expand your reach and tap into their networks.
  • Offer incentives or rewards for donors who refer others to your fundraising campaigns.

Fundraising Myth 4: Fundraising is taking, not giving

The truth: fundraising is a transaction in which both sides receive something. Be sure you're clear about what that something is when you ask for money.

This seems to make sense, right? Fundraising is a transaction in which each side gives something to the other. You’re providing something intangible, that may be of equal value to donors.

Such as an opportunity for the donor to participate, in an organization that does something special in the world of which he or she wants to be a part. Critical to your attitude when you asked for support, is that you are offering a partnership where both sides have something to gain.

You’re providing something essential to that person’s well-being. It builds your confidence when you ask yourself, how can I ask for money? And the answer is, I am giving the donor something special where at times, you may just be giving friendship and an opportunity to belong. Always think about what you are providing to the donor.

  • What you give is an opportunity to get donor needs met.
  • To make a difference.
  • To make an impact on an issue the donor cares about.
  • To join a community of like-minded individuals.
  • To find purpose and meaning.
  • To enact a cherished value.
  • To pay back a debt owed.
  • To love one’s reflection in the mirror.
  • To experience a “warm glow” jolt of dopamine.

Examples: clarifying what you provide to donors

  • Develop a compelling case for support that clearly communicates the impact of donors’ contributions on your organization’s mission.
  • Share success stories and testimonials from individuals who have directly benefited from the organization’s work.
  • Offer various levels of engagement and recognition for donors based on their contribution levels.
  • Provide regular updates to donors on how their support is making a difference, highlighting specific outcomes and achievements.

Fundraising Myth 5: Nobody has money to give (right now)

The truth: there is always money to give; just ask for it in the right way and for the right reasons.

Each passing generation has experienced tough times – wars, epidemics/pandemics, hunger, etc. and there have always been fundraising efforts to make things better. The covid-19 pandemic disrupted businesses and economies the world over. Yet billions of dollars were donated by governments, corporates and individuals in response to the pandemic.

Strategies for effectively asking for donations during tough economic times

  • Craft a compelling and urgent fundraising appeal that clearly communicates the need and impact of donations during challenging circumstances.
  • Offer flexible giving options, such as monthly or recurring donations, to make it easier for donors to contribute over a more extended period.
  • Focus on storytelling and emotional connections in your fundraising messaging to inspire empathy and action.
  • Explore partnerships or collaborations with other organizations or businesses to amplify the impact of fundraising efforts and reach wider audiences.

Fundraising Myth 6: The donor should know everything about your organization

The truth: Listening to donors is often more important than lecturing them.

Sure, donors want to know more about your organization but it has to be in the larger context of what interests them. A conversation with a donor is a chance to find out as much as you can about them and let them talk. You should be prepared to lead the conversation to areas of their interest by finding out as much as you can about them in advance.

Look and listen when you’re with a donor. And to the extent possible, follow up on things that they say, leading whenever possible to points of connection with you and your organization and its activities.

Techniques for active listening and engaging donors in meaningful conversations.

  • Prioritize building rapport with donors by asking open-ended questions and actively listening to their responses.
  • Use donor relationship management tools to collect and track relevant information about donors’ interests, preferences, and previous interactions.
  • Tailor your conversations to align with donors’ interests and values, highlighting how their support can contribute to causes they care about.
  • Follow up on specific points or interests mentioned by donors in subsequent communications to show that you value their input and engagement.

Fundraising Myth 7: Statistics and facts are superior to stories

The truth: Stories often matter more than statistics to capture people's attention.

True, they will matter at some point, but it’s stories that engage donors. Donors like to hear stories – of adversity and success.

“People connect through stories.”

John Maxwell

How to craft compelling stories and incorporate them into fundraising efforts effectively

  • Identify impactful stories within your organization that showcase the transformative power of donations.
  • Develop a storytelling framework that includes a relatable protagonist, a clear challenge or adversity, and a resolution or transformation.
  • Use multimedia elements, such as photos, videos, or testimonials, to enhance the storytelling experience and make it more engaging.
  • Incorporate storytelling into various fundraising materials, including emails, social media posts, website content, and fundraising events.

Fundraising Myth 8: A great fundraiser is an individual superstar working alone

The truth: fundraising is a team effort, and everyone can play a role.

Fundraising is a team sport. First of all, fundraising is hard work. As the old saying goes, it’s 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

And with fundraising, there’s much more to do than one person can do alone. And the reason? Well, let’s think about it for a moment. There’s planning and strategizing. There’s prospect identification, both individuals and institutional donors. There’s making contact. There’s following up and courting donors. There’s research. There’s the solicitation phase.

There’s designing materials. There’s keeping your website up to date if you have one. There’s collecting stories and other materials for fundraising. There’s budgeting, there’s record keeping, and reporting.

There’s servicing donors and funders and most importantly, there’s acknowledging when they have given you money or something else. Also, it takes a team effort to constantly enlarge your circle of donors.

Team leaders must spend time on teamwork and coordination, which is why planning, strategizing and assigning responsibilities is so important.

Tips for effective team collaboration in fundraising and how to leverage individual strengths

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities within your fundraising team to ensure everyone understands their contributions and areas of focus.
  • Foster open communication channels to facilitate collaboration, such as regular team meetings, shared document repositories, or project management tools.
  • Leverage individual strengths and expertise by assigning tasks based on team members’ skills and interests.
  • Encourage a culture of appreciation and recognition, acknowledging the efforts and contributions of each team member to maintain motivation and morale.

Fundraising Myth 9: The internet has completely changed how we fundraise

The truth: fundraising via the internet still holds many similarities to in-person fundraising.

While some things have indeed changed with the growth and dominance of the internet, the fundraising basics have remained the same.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”

Jim Rohn

With internet:

  • You can have a substantial international presence for the cost of a domain name and a website.
  • You can tell people your story anywhere in the world and maintain important relationships with donors immediately without ever having to travel.
  • You can mount a major fundraising campaign without the investment of large amounts of money.

Nonetheless, your mission still matters, people still need to be convinced that your work is important, and you still need to find donors and cultivate them.

True, you may be able to find them on Facebook rather than at a party, but you and your team still need to find donors and get them interested. Just like in No.8 Planning and strategizing, identifying prospects, following up and courting donors, designing compelling materials, keeping your website up to date, collecting stories, record keeping, reporting, servicing donors, and acknowledging gifts. You will need to do all that.

Strategies for leveraging the internet in fundraising campaigns

  • Build a user-friendly and visually appealing website that clearly communicates your organization’s mission, impact, and donation opportunities.
  • Utilize social media platforms strategically, posting compelling content, sharing success stories, and actively engaging with your online community.
  • Implement online donation tools or platforms that offer secure and convenient ways for donors to contribute.
  • Leverage email marketing to nurture donor relationships, share updates, and send personalized fundraising appeals.
  • Consider utilizing crowdfunding platforms or hosting virtual fundraising events to reach a wider audience and create a sense of community.

Fundraising Myth 10: Only charities can ask for donations

The truth: Anyone can fundraise to make a difference in anything they care about.

Anyone can ask for donations. People giving money will want to know how you are going to spend it. They may want proof that no one is going to profit from it. But they will sometimes give to organizations that are not charities. This is particularly true if the people know the work your organization does.

You may still want to become a charity if you are doing lots of fundraising in this way so that more people trust you. Charities have particular rules about how they record their donations. They may not have to pay taxes on them and may be able to claim Gift Aid.

How individuals or non-charitable organizations can effectively ask for donations and build trust

  • Clearly articulate your purpose, goals, and the specific need you are addressing to build credibility and trust.
  • Establish personal connections with potential donors by sharing your story and explaining why their support is vital to your cause.
  • Offer transparency and accountability by communicating how donations will be used and providing regular updates on the progress made.
  • Leverage social networks and personal relationships to ask for donations, emphasizing the personal connection and shared values.
  • Consider hosting fundraising events or campaigns that align with your cause to generate excitement and engagement.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: How can I find potential donors and supporters?

Finding potential donors involves actively networking, leveraging personal connections, and expanding your reach. Start by engaging with your existing networks, including family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Each donor you connect with may have their own network of potential supporters, widening your reach over time.

Q2: How can I measure the success of my fundraising efforts?

Measuring the success of fundraising efforts can be done through various metrics, such as the amount of funds raised, donor retention rates, engagement levels, and impact achieved. Tracking these metrics allows you to assess the effectiveness of your strategies and make informed decisions for future fundraising endeavors.

Q3: How can I build donor trust and maintain strong relationships?

Building donor trust and maintaining strong relationships require transparency, regular communication, and stewardship. Providing updates on your organization’s activities and impact, expressing gratitude for donations, and demonstrating responsible financial management can help foster trust and strengthen relationships with donors.

Q4: Do I need a large budget to run effective fundraising campaigns?

While having a budget can be helpful, running effective fundraising campaigns doesn’t necessarily require a large financial investment. With strategic planning and leveraging available resources, such as online platforms and social media, you can launch successful campaigns without significant financial burdens. Focus on creativity, storytelling, and building genuine connections with donors.

Q5: How can I effectively engage and involve volunteers in fundraising efforts?

Engaging volunteers in fundraising efforts can be valuable for expanding your reach and leveraging their skills and networks. Provide clear roles and responsibilities, offer training and support, recognize and appreciate their contributions, and create opportunities for them to actively participate in fundraising initiatives. Effective volunteer management can enhance fundraising outcomes.

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