Nonprofit Fundraising – So Much More Than Asking!


Here’s a short quiz: You are at a cocktail party and a friend is introducing you to another party guest. How does your friend describe your job?

Option A:  Kathie asks people for money.


Option B:  Kathie builds relationships and makes connections for her nonprofit organization to ensure its financial sustainability.

Chances are, it’s Option A. Then, it's likely that my new acquaintance, the other party guest, replies, ‘Oh, that’s a tough job. I could never ask anyone for money.” It’s a common misunderstanding among ‘non-nonprofit’ folks that fundraising is all about asking for money (and that it’s hard).

The truth is, the actual ‘asking for money part’ is just one step in the larger context of relationship building with donors. Think about the four steps of the fundraising cycle. (You’ll also hear people refer to these steps collectively as “moves management.”)

Prospect Identification – finding and identifying prospective donors. This step includes “qualifying” your prospects, i.e. assessing capacity to give and potential interest in your organization’s mission and work.

Cultivation – learning more about a prospective donor’s interests and motivations, and letting them get to know you and your organization.

Solicitation (The Ask) – asking your prospective donor for a gift to support your organization’s mission and work.

Stewardship – thanking and acknowledging donors, and promoting their long-term engagement with your organization. 

Yes, solicitation is an important step in the fundraising process, but it’s not the whole process. In fact, three of the four steps in the fundraising cycle involve non-solicitation activities. I’ve heard it said that asking for a gift is only 10% of fundraising.

Spending time up front cultivating a genuine relationship with your prospective donors will build a foundation for a successful solicitation well before the Ask. As a result, asking a donor for a specific gift is a lot less dramatic than many people imagine!

Equally important, after a donor makes a gift, is to thoughtfully steward your donor and share with them how their gift is making an impact. Effective stewardship continues to build a successful relationship with your donors before it’s time to make another Ask.

Cultivation and stewardship both take an incredible investment of time and energy! It’s these other steps – not the Ask itself – that are the heart of a development program. Educating your CEO, board and other volunteers on all of the steps involved in fundraising can help align expectations and build consensus to focus staff time where its most needed.

How much time do you spend on the Ask vs. other steps of the fundraising cycle? Share your thoughts in the Comments box below.

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