Seven Fundraising Misconceptions Holding Back Your Organization


Fundraising can be a wildly misunderstood activity.

Many nonprofit CEOs and board members bring their own personal misconceptions about fundraising when they walk in the door of a nonprofit.

Some think fundraising is snarky – like begging. Or “hitting people up.”

Others think raising money is so easy, like snapping your fingers and funding will fall from the sky.

They have no idea the challenges that frontline fundraisers face.

The problem is, the people with misconceptions about fundraising are often are making decisions about how much to invest in fundraising, and which strategies to undertake.

They also hire and evaluate fundraising staff. These leaders set fundraising goals backed up with no plan, no strategy or hiring/training program.

Last week’s post on “Why Are We Facing a Fundraiser Exodus” brought forward some stark observations from readers in the field:

“I feel permanently exhausted and stressed. Not enough support, time, not enough buy-in from the board, and unrealistic goals.” 

“There’s a horrible, creeping misunderstanding of who and what and how fundraisers and development officers work.” 

“What resonates with me the most is the fact that sometimes we’re just plain stretched too thin. Too thin to do the work the really matters, too thin to innovate, too thin to enjoy the work.”

Oooof. So this is what is going on out in the field.

When organizational leaders don’t understand what it takes to get the work done, then it’s easy to set unrealistic expectations and goals upon your hardworking staff.

If we were in a business, things would be different. The people managing a certain unit would take seriously the input of the people running the unit. The leaders would thoughtfully work with the team to set goals.

It’s not like that in nonprofits. Too often, fundraising goals are pulled right out of the air. And simply given to the staff who have no input.

The following misconceptions can be crushing to many fundraising teams.  People don’t understand that:

1. Fundraising is challenging, sophisticated work. It’s not easy.

Many leaders think fundraising is simple: You just have to get in front of people and ask them, and they will give because they “should.”

People who think fundraising is easy are the people who don’t understand why we need resources and training in order to do the work.

2. Fundraising requires a serious investment of money and focus.

Board members will say: “we can’t spend THAT much money on fundraising! It just isn’t right!”

Board members are often shocked when I tell them that the money is not simply going to walk in the door. Someone has to do the actual work.

3. The return on investment in fundraising is HUGE.

Just think, your organization could invest $100k in a fundraising campaign, and could receive back $500k- $1 million – or even $5 million.

Fundraising has the biggest return of any investment I know of! Yet the leaders too often can’t bring themselves to allocate that initial investment.

4. Fundraising simply takes time to build productive donor relationships.

One of the greatest pressures on fundraising staff is the pressure for immediate results.

Organizational leaders don’t understand that donors are not going to throw money at your nonprofit without developing a trusting relationship first. It simply won’t happen overnight.

“Not only did they want me to produce $300,000 in my first 6 months, but decided to let me go when the fundraising dinner I organized garnered around $115,000 within 6 months. . . 

5. Fundraising goals can’t be pulled out of the air. They need to be back up by a thoughtful plan.

Unrealistic goals are a huge pressure point for frontline fundraisers. I can’t imagine the stress of working toward a goal that is impossible to reach.

You can’t just thrust goals in front of fundraisers and expect them to be successful out of the blue. It takes support, training, resources, strategy, door opening, consulting, planning – to reach your desired fundraising goal.

“Fundraisers face inordinate stress because of sometimes unrealistic goals with little or no assistance from staff and board.

6. Hiring experienced fundraising staff and consultants pays off.

“You get what you pay for” is a longstanding notion. And it goes for fundraising too.

If you hire an inexpensive person who has no experience or training, you can’t expect them to come in and immediately be successful.

Staff and consultants who know practical skills can apply methodology, research and best practices – and they will bring in better results.

7. Fundraising is a vitally important part of your organization’s business model.

I just can’t understand why so many boards and CEO’s avoid the fundraising topic. When in fact, fundraising is wildly essential to your cause.

So many boards and nonprofit leaders want to ignore fundraising. Yet it is a key ingredient of your financial structure. I can’t imagine a more important topic for everyone to study.

Bottom line: What fundraising misconceptions have I missed?

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