Are You A Fundraiser or An Advocate?

Not long ago I was in a client meeting where we had quite an intense discussion around the issue of asking for money. With this particular client, about two years prior they had made the decision to change the nature of their solicitations to focus more on the organization and soften the ask for support, making it more like a suggestion than a direct request for a gift.

Now the reports we were reviewing showed a massive $3 million slide in broad-base support over the period. In addition, the reports also showed that there was an alarming 20 percent loss of core donors – a dangerous harbinger of a decrease in future support that this organization would experience.

As the discussion went on, I had a bit of an epiphany. I was finally able to put into words a belief I had, but had been unsuccessful in articulating up to this point. To best understand what I’m about to say, I need to paint a bit of a backdrop.

Most people in the fundraising world view the role of fundraising as generating income for “my” organization so it can do its thing. The financial pressures are great, especially with this economy. We have a budget to meet, a campaign goal to hit, a deficit to make up.

This means most folks in fundraising are organizationally focused and most likely consumed with the transaction. This tends to express itself as, “We need to raise $XXXXX,” or “Help us hit our goal of $XXXX,” or “We need to close this deficit by XXXX.”

Now there are times when a straight financial request for support is important, especially at the end of a fiscal year. Or if there is a true deficit you’re facing. But even in those situations, what context do you give to it? Why is meeting that financial goal so important?

Meeting that goal or funding that project isn’t for you or about you. It’s for those you serve or reach.

What this means is this: If you are in fundraising, you are really an advocate… a voice for those you serve, to the donors or potential donors who can make a difference through their support.

You are an advocate for the children you feed… the students you educate… the listeners you reach with a word of hope… the community that is enriched by your concerts or artistic showcases… the persecuted who are strengthened… the women you rescue from sex trafficking… the heartbroken victims of violent crime.

They are the ones who pay the price if you are underfunded. They are the ones who suffer if you cannot fulfill your mission.

They are why you do what you do, and why your donors support you.

That makes youtheir voice to your donors. It is their story that counts. It is NOT about you.

If you are uncomfortable asking for money, it’s because you think it’s about you and your organization. Which means when you ask, you are most likely organizationally focused in your request, which makes people feel like you’re begging.

If that’s you, your compass is calibrated to south, not north. You think you’re headed in the right direction, but are severely off course.

If you are in fundraising in any capacity, you’re not in the business of sucking money out of people. You’re in the business of being a voice to your donors (or potential donors) for those who are served, impacted, and transformed by the work of your organization.

You make the story about them, not you. And you make the donor the hero for the support they provide… support that changes the lives of those you help.

You are an advocate. And when you understand this, it changes everything. You’re not embarrassed to ask for support. In fact, you are bold in being a voice… an advocate… for the men, women, children, or families you serve.


Rick is a 36-year veteran in fundraising and organizational development for nonprofit organizations. After serving for eleven years in nonprofit management and fundraising leadership roles, Rick began his consulting career in 1989. In 2002 he founded Dunham+Company, which has become a global leader in providing fully integrated fundraising strategy for nonprofit organizations.

Today, D+C serves over 50 organizations in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa, and Australia, providing integrated fundraising and marketing strategies.

Rick holds a BA from Biola University and a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary.

He is an active member of the Direct Marketing Association. Rick also serves on the board of The Giving Institute and the Giving USA Foundation. In addition, Rick is a member of The Giving Coalition, the national voice for charitable organizations in the U.S.

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