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Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards (And Staff Too)

Kay Sprinkel Grace


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Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards (And Staff Too)
A 1-Hour Guide to Identifying and Overcoming Obstacles to Your Success - REVISED & EXPANDED EDITION
by Kay Sprinkel Grace, 109 pp., $24.95. (Click here for bulk discount information)

Over the past 70 years, organizations of all kinds have tested literally hundreds of fundraising techniques and strategies. Some have succeeded beyond expectation – billion dollar capital campaigns attest to that – but too many approaches have failed.

Yet, strangely enough, many of these unsuccessful methods, because they seem commonsensical, are repeated to this day. Over and over again.

The result? Untold hours are wasted, causes go unfunded, and disappointment and frustration demoralize volunteers and staff everywhere.

In Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards (and Staff Too), Kay Sprinkel Grace seeks to end these costly blunders once and for all, by exposing them for what they are: time and money wasters you need to scrupulously avoid.

Of related interest

OF RELATED INTEREST: Jerold Panas has worked with hundreds of nonprofit boards. He funnels that experience into The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards and shares what he’s learned firsthand about those who excel at the task of resource development.

And there are more trapdoors than you might imagine. Sprinkel Grace has identified 44 in total, many of them tantalizing, especially to board members and other volunteers:

Here’s just a sampling of the mistaken beliefs:

• Donors are drawn to organizations in need.
• You have to be a household name to attract support.
• We can’t raise much because our cause makes people uncomfortable.
• We can’t raise big money – we don’t know any rich people.
• Wealth is what mostly determines a person’s willingness to give.
• You need a powerful board to have a successful campaign.
• You need a stable of annual donors to have a successful capital campaign.

In short, lively chapters, Sprinkel Grace skewers every one of these faulty notions.

After reading Fundraising Mistakes, you’ll still stumble from time to time – no one is a perfect fundraiser. But these pages will dramatically enhance your skills and you’ll enter each campaign – whether annual or capital – primed for success.

Sunshine is the great antiseptic. And the bright light that Sprinkel Grace shines on these 44 fundraising mistakes is simply dazzling.


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About the Author

Kay Sprinkel Grace is also the author of the Ultimate Board Member's Book and Over Goal! What You Must Know to Excel at Fundraising Today.

Kay, who writes a regular column for Contributions Magazine, is a prolific writer, creative thinker, inspiring speaker, and reflective practitioner. Her passion for philanthropy and its capacity to transform donors, organizations, and communities is well-known in the U.S. and internationally.

Kay lives in San Francisco and is an enthusiastic photographer, traveler, hiker, and creative writer. When not writing, speaking, or consulting, you can find her with her children and grandchildren who live in San Francisco, upstate New York, and France.

Table of Contents

1) Tax deductibility is a powerful incentive
2) Foundations and corporations are the biggest donors
3) Special events are the best way to raise money
4) People will give just because yours is a good cause
5) People will just find out about us
6) Donors are drawn to organizations in need
7) We’ll attract funding because our hearts are in the right place
8) You have to be a household name to win support
9) You can secure big gifts by writing letters
10) Publicity raises money
11) People dislike giving
12) Donors are a different lot – they're not like us
13) People won’t support a cause like ours
14) We can't raise big money - we don't know any rich people
15) Giving is largely a rational decision
16) Others are more comfortable asking for money than you
17) The state of the economy is key to fundraising
18) Wealth is mostly what determines a person's willingness to give
19) To secure a gift, saying just the right words is key
20) You don’t have to give money yourself – your gift is your time
21) It's impolite to ask for a specific amount
22) Asking once a year is enough
23) Development staff, because it's their job, are more effective in asking
24) Fundraising consultants (and development officers) often bring with them a list of people to solicit
25) We can run this campaign on the cheap
26) Fundraising costs are a measure of our organization
27) You need to powerful board to have a successful campaign
28) Not everyone on the board has to be involved in fundraising
29) It’s prudent of focus on large donors only
30) Estate gifts only come from big donors
31) You need a stable of annual donors to have a successful campaign
32) If you don't know how much an individual, corporation or foundation can give, shoot for the moon
33) Some can't afford to give and shouldn't even be asked
34) You need a feasibility study before launching a capital campaign
35) If you've been trained at one organization, you don't need to attend another agency's training
36) For those giving small gifts, a simple acknowledgment is fitting
37) If a someone is contributing to an organization similar to yours, asking him to give to you is poaching
38) Your goal in a capital campaign is simply the amount of money you need
39) Consultants aren't needed if you have a fundraising staff
40) Nowadays, people want you to get to the point and ask – cultivations wastes time
41) If your early fundraising calls don't spark interest, chances are you'll fail
42) You can probably count on a few "windfall" gifts
43) Fundraising is a lot easier once you get the hang of it
44) With so many organizations raising money, the wells of philanthropy are drying up

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Excerpt This article is excerpted from Kay Sprinkel Grace’s book, Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards (and Staff Too), ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, please call 508-359-0019.

Two Fundraising Mistakes to Avoid

This excerpt, adapted from Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards (and Staff Too), touches on two of the 44 fundraising mistakes that Kay Sprinkel Grace examines in the newly revised edition of her bestselling book, published by Emerson & Church.

Not a household name like the American Cancer Society? Not a "popular" cause like Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest)? No need to fret.

If your organization is relatively unknown, or if your cause doesn’t involve children or animals but controversial social issues, you can still raise money. 

Believing that your opportunities are limited by the issue you’re addressing or by a lack of branding are just two fundraising mistakes to dispense with now.

You don’t have to be a household name to win support

YMCA. Goodwill. Red Cross. Salvation Army. Habitat for Humanity. 
Household names, yes. Or, as the marketers call them: brands. But it’s a mistake to think you have to be a household name to win support.

We hide behind that idea when explaining why our annual or capital goals fell short, or why we failed to receive even a portion of the estate of one of our donors. It all went to the Salvation Army.

In my first development job, at a day treatment school for children with special needs, I was notified shortly after I began work that we had received an estate gift. The name of the donor wasn’t in my files (BC, before computer), so I asked some of our long-time donor relations volunteers about him. 

At first, no one remembered, but they had a system that in hindsight seems primitive: a shoebox filled with 3 x 5 cards of donors who had stopped giving. His card was in there. His last gift had been $25, given 10 years earlier. 

Someone remembered he had a blind wife and they used to walk around our school campus. He once told one of the volunteers how his wife loved the sounds of the children.

The charitable portion of the estate was allocated among several groups: our organization and two household names – Braille Institute and Reader’s Digest Books for the Blind. But we received the residue of the estate, making our final distribution nearly twice what the others received.

To him, we were more important than the household names. 

Trust in a brand is important – we see that in purchases we make. But just like the “off brand” you try and find to be superior to the brand you’ve always used – your organization can distinguish itself among your donors through its programs, outreach to the community, stewardship of its donors, and perception as a true community partner.

People will support a cause like yours, even if it’s controversial

Children. Babies. Animals. We all know what gets the money and attention. 

But if yours is a cause that makes people uncomfortable, one they’d rather not talk about, or one addressing issues with limited acceptance, then you might mistakenly think you can’t raise money.

Not so.

I’ve worked with an organization that served adult survivors of incest. We raised money. I’ve worked with agencies focusing on domestic violence long before it was a mainstream issue, and they are thriving. I’ve worked with groups advocating for freedom in sexual preference, and they’ve expanded their donor rolls exponentially.

There is a simple window through which we need to view all donors – those who support children, animals, survivors of domestic violence, and lesbian and gay rights – and that is: All philanthropy is based in values.  

We know from research and from our own experience that people don’t give to, join, or serve organizations whose values they don’t share. Try as you might, you won’t get a pro-choice advocate to give to a pro-life cause.

Still, while you may have a smaller constituency with unpopular or sensitive causes, often you’ll have a more loyal backing because they are people who’ve experienced the issue in some way. What they lack in numbers, they make up for in passion.

Also, with increasing numbers of private and family foundations focusing on issues-based giving, many have one of these narrow or emerging causes as their focus.

If your cause isn’t mainstream, don’t despair – and don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s no support for you. The key is in finding imaginative links.

In the past, for example, you’d have been hard-pressed to interest men in domestic abuse issues. Undaunted, the Family Violence Prevention Fund approached who else? male athletes – a group conscious of its image and much admired by boys and young men.

Who better to be “Coaching Boys Into Men” than these idolized baseball, football, basketball, and soccer players?

Engage those who are passionate, whether or not they have money. People who care will find the warm and fuzzy in your cause.


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