The Secret Sauce for Effective Fundraising


Here's a fundraising secret that will relieve a great amount of angst: resources flow.

Resources like time, creativity, networks, ideas, passion and money.  These resources are ours to leverage. Unfortunately, they can get stuck and stalled, in large part, because of the barriers we erect around them.  And the bossiest of barriers: our problematic relationship with money. I work with people on every part of the economic spectrum and everyone - I mean everyone - has, on some level, a dysfunctional relationship with money.

No way around it: we work in the world of money. So we need to understand ourselves and how we relate to it. Take a moment and ask yourself honest questions about the values you put around money. Do you assign money values coming from a place of fear and scarcity? That is, does talking about money take on a dark threatening posture? Or do you color it with the light, warm values of courage, commitment and love?

I often get asked, how do I talk about money for my cause in a way that I don't feel like I am losing my soul? How do I not walk away from interactions where money is being discussed feeling exhausted and burned out?  How do I relate to someone more deeply than on the basic level of money?

My answer is always the same: ask yourself if money is at the center of your relationships or is it a shared vision for how you will work together to create social change?  If money is at the center, there will always be a skewed power dynamic.  Namely, the people or organizations with the money have the power and the people needing the money become supplicant to them. Then, we are in a competitive, consumer mode where we have to pitch people on why our product, organization, vision is better than another. This has never made sense to me.

Why pitch people on, say, why the environment is more important than ending extreme poverty?  Or vice versa? They are intricately linked and so why be competitive about it?
In fact, why pitch at all? The invitation - the "ask" - is not, at its essence, what can you do for me or how can you help me, but, rather, how can we work together?  This is an important distinction.  Asking someone to "help" creates an inauthentic power dynamic. Helping implies weakness. I counsel people to strike that word entirely from their lexicon.  Instead, invite people to join with you and to stand together in a shared belief that together your resources can exponentially multiply and can make a powerful difference.

From here, fundraising becomes much more of an exchange of values.  A vehicle through which we meet at a place beyond help.  It is an entirely new framing, a new way to collaborate that transcends the power dynamic.  This way, money is out of the middle. It becomes a relationship built on a discovery of some of the most basic, human questions:  Why are we here? What might be possible? Who are we? As the great philosopher and author of Money and the Meaning of Life Jacob Needleman says: "Money can buy anything, except meaning."  Meaning is the thing we're going for here. A shared understanding that we are here to serve something larger than ourselves - that thing Plato calls Eros.

Go into conversation with others standing up, never kneeling down. Fundraising is not begging.  We all have something of great value to give each other when we are operating from a place of partnership and collaboration.

And money isn't the enemy. It's also not the end. It's simply a means, a single resource among many that can be activated in service of our work together.