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Fundraising starts with WHO, not WHAT

This is the first post in my year-end fundraising series. In August and September, you can follow along here to receive training and tools that will help you launch a year-end fundraising campaign by October 1. The lessons I'm offering are best for small nonprofits (five or fewer employees). Ready for an amazing and successful Giving Season? Rock 'n' roll.

Let's start here: I don't want your year-end fundraising to just "get by."

I want more for you than just a successful year-end fundraising campaign. I want you and everyone you meet this holiday season to feel joy.

Seriously? Did I just write that in a blog post about year-end fundraising?

Yes, I did. Don't you want some joy this holiday season? Do you believe that it's still possible in this crazy world?

I do. And I'm going to show you how to make it so...with year-end fundraising of all things!

I believe that nothing goes together better than fundraising and joy. Two reasons:

First, nothing fills the human heart with more joy than giving. Every time someone gives a sincere gift, she gets a dose of the greatest joy known to humankind.

Second, every time you ask someone to give to your small nonprofit, you are giving her an occasion to experience joy.

Here's a bonus reason: When you ask a donor for a gift, you experience a double dose of joy. You experience the joy of giving the donor an occasion to experience her own joy. You also experience the joy of being the one who passes that gift on to someone who needs it.

Now do you see why fundraising and joy go together like hot cocoa and marshmallows?

OK, so maybe you see my point. Fundraising has the real potential to fill us all with joy.

So why doesn't it? I concede that the word "fundraising" is more likely to bring up all kinds of negative emotions like anxiety, disappointment, fear, guilt, and stress. Why are these negative emotions more the norm than joy?

Two words: Objects and subjects.


Over almost 20 years of fundraising in nonprofits of all sizes, I've noticed that we tend to focus 80 to 90 percent of our attention and energy on objects. We need to flip that script and focus 80 to 90 percent of our attention and energy on subjects.

Objects are things. Subjects are people.

Objects are crowdfunding platforms, direct mail pieces, donor databases, email lists, galas, policies and procedures, volunteer hours, and things like that. Of course, the most popular objects of all--the ones over which we obsess day and night--are dollars.

Subjects are the people who use objects to ask, give, and thank.

Think about the last time you sat in a fundraising planning meeting. I've been in more of these than I can count or recall. What did you talk about for most of the meeting?

I bet you spent most of the meeting talking about objects, specifically: Dollars and the things you would use to get those dollars. Yes, I'm sure subjects were part of your discussion, but only as a means to acquire more objects. The objects were the point, weren't they?

This is where I think we are missing out on the opportunity for both joy and unusual success in our year-end fundraising.

We know better, but life has a way of making us forget three truths about objects:

Objects are useful, but they are not in themselves sources of things like hope, joy, or peace. Think about an object that you wanted for a very long time and finally got. How long did the feeling last? How were your feelings when you received the object different from the feelings you expected to have before you got the object? Objects are useful, but they aren't joy-full.

Objects are useful and valuable, but only when they are being used and valued by subjects. An object on its own doesn't do anything, it isn't worth anything; it takes a subject (a person) acting upon the object to make it useful and valuable.

Objects are most useful and valuable when they are being shared between subjects. What gives you more joy? Having an object or sharing the object with another person? Possessing an object is disappointing and dull until you share it with someone else. The joy of living is not having objects; it's sharing objects with others.

If these three things are true about objects, why do we make objects the near-obsession of our fundraising plans?

Dollars (objects) cannot choose where to donate themselves. It takes a person (subject) to make that choice and take action with her dollars.

Dollars (objects) cannot make you or anyone who has them happy. It takes sharing those dollars in a relationship to kindle the bright warmth of joy.

So if we want both joy and success in our year-end fundraising, it makes the most sense to focus on people. Not dollars, not events and gimmicks, not marketing media, not tools. People.

Every time I make a fundraising plan, I always start with people. I don't start with the fundraising goal (dollar amount). I don't start with what I'm going to do and what I'm going to use to raise the money. I start with people.

I start by writing names of people I know. Who would enjoy being a part of the mission and work in any way (not just money)? Who would be happy to give something (advice, funds, introductions to friends, materials, prayers, talent, etc.) to help me and this mission? Who are the people who would feel like they get more out of giving than the value of whatever they give (dollars, hours, etc.)?

I make a list. I don't run a report from a database, not at first. I just start writing names as they come to me. I trust my memory to tell me who has a heart for the work I'm doing.

In short, I make a list of people for whom giving to me would give them joy.

And that's how we're going to start your year-end fundraising plan. Forget the dollars. Forget the tools you might use to run your campaign. Forget the plan for a moment. Just start by letting the names of people come to mind. Write them down. Don't worry about whether you have a long list or a short list. At this point in the process, I want you to see that joy is not only possible in your year-end fundraising; it's probable. You will see it if you just focus on people.

In the next blog post, I'm going to give you a preview of how the entire year-end fundraising planning process will look over the next few weeks. You can sign up here to receive my lessons in your inbox each week. That includes free tools to go along with the lessons and invitations to live events and webinars where I'll train you in person. Sign up here today so you can stay on track to launch your year-end fundraising campaign by October 1.

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