Fundraising Myths

Myth One - Greed is Good! 

Well actually it isn't. Off-hand, it's hard to think of a single instance where greed has brought good to the world. Perhaps people who subscribe to this motto are confusing greed with ambition, energy, determination, drive, will to succeed. These things do not equate to greed. They are moreover, part and parcel of the process of living. 

Andrew Carnegie, the rags-to-riches industrialist and philanthropist subscribed to a view that "...the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced." He didn't just preach either. He devoted at least as much of his life to the problem of re-distributing wealth, as he did to amassing it. His achievements in both of these arenas were considerable.

Myth Two - Money Defiles the Cause!

The corollary to the 'greed is good' ethos and just as detrimental to good fundraising practice. There are people who attach themselves to causes, who take a very literal interpretation of the 'not-for-profit' ethos. They are the ones who will tell you indignantly: 'I didn't know we were supposed to be making money out of this!'

Fundraising is not primarily concerned with moral or ethical considerations. It is essentially a practical issue. That is not to say that there aren't any morals and ethics in fundraising. There really is no easy way out of this conundrum. If a person is not convinced about the integrity of what the mission is trying to achieve, maybe they belong somewhere else. 

The problem for fundraisers, when faced with these kind of objections, is that they have to work on certain assumptions if they are going to be able to work at all. We do not deny the wisdom that is contained in many holy books. However the next time someone tells you that 'the meek shall inherit the earth' remind them, as a fundraiser you are part of a movement with a far more pressing engagement - to make the world a place that it is worth inheriting! 

Myth Three - Donors Want to Give! In Fact they Love it!

This is usually used to badger people into doing something that has to be done, but which no one really wants to do. 

Let's take the statement about donors 'wanting to give' at face value. The truth is they don't. It's a bit like paying taxes. Have you ever seen people falling over each other to be first in line? 

Donors would prefer if they did not have to give. But they give anyway because they realise that it is up to them. A case of; if they don't, and no one else does, then who will? So it's kind of like a lottery except that it is an act of compulsion rather than an impulse. 

More often than not it arises out of something rooted deep within their personal history or background. They may have experienced something at some point in their lives that makes them empathise with sufferers. The truth is you can never second guess what the motivation is that prompts a donor to give. 

Your job as a fundraiser is to facilitate that giving process. It is certainly not to pester people into submission. People give because they want to and because they can. Both sets of conditions have to be in place. If either one is absent donor-giving cannot and will not take place. 

Myth Four - People Only Give for Selfish Reasons!

Maybe some do, maybe some don't but as we said before, it's not your job as a fundraiser to try to gauge people's intentions or motivations. It is far more important that you establish clear parameters within which you accept gifts and donations. 

Generally speaking, gifts that come with conditions attached are not considered charitable or philanthropic. In all your contact and communications, you must be clear that what you are seeking is support to advance your cause, not to inhibit it or to potentially cast it in a negative light.

Myth Five - You Have to Make People Angry! 

Apparently, if you want to motivate people to give your cause you have to rouse them into a state of unholy indignation. Your fundraising appeals therefore should be full of tales of suffering and woe. 

The problem with this theory is experience proves the opposite. Chances are, the people who give to your cause do so because they are tired of being angry all the time. They have seen through that tunnel and now they want to do something positive. 

You risk losing a donor if you manage to somehow convey the impression that the situation is hopeless or that all is lost. After all, isn't it your job to be doing something to bring about change? 

Myth Six - Everything You Do, Say or Write Must be Dripping with Emotion

Marketing 'crimes of passion' also happen in fundraising. Have you ever seen those adverts where companies insist that they are 'passionate about car insurance' or something equally mundane? People are not deceived. There is nothing wrong with the mundane as long as it serves a purpose; so why do some feel the need to dramatise it? 

In fundraising, copywriters are often too inclined to follow the newspaper maxim that 'if it bleeds, it leads'. The danger of dealing with everything on an emotional level is that emotions themselves are all too often highly charged; more often than not in need of diffusion. 

Emotion can lead people to perform exemplary acts of generosity and/or self-sacrifice. But it can also have unpredictable and adverse effects. 

Spontaneity can be great, fun even. Worshiping spontaneity however is fraught with difficulties. As a fundraiser, you will understand that the long-term happiness of the greatest number rests on leaving nothing to chance. 

Myth Seven - Fundraising is Just Another Business

Fundraising is not 'just another business'. It is a particular kind of business that has to be treated on its own terms. Some of the rules from the general canon of business management, marketing, etc. will apply, others will not. Knowing which ones apply and which don't is a question of judgement and skill. 

The Donor-Cause relationship is a case in point. Choosing an organisation or cause to support cannot be reduced to some question of 'brand loyalty'. Most donors would probably tell you that it was the cause that choose them. They're not going to dump you when someone else comes along offering 'better value for money'. 

Your donors are not your 'customers'. They are your fellow-travellers in the cause that you have both enlisted. You should treat each other as such. Understanding that special relationship is the single biggest challenge you will face as a fundraiser. To misunderstand that relationship will lead to errors with possibly fatal results. 

Myth Eight - Fundraising is a Science

Actually this is one is true, Fundraising and the body of knowledge that supports it is a science and deserves to be treated as such. 

The problem arises when certain practitioners confuse science with various forms of mechanical sorcery. Then it becomes necessary to dispel the myth. Science actually develops by challenging underlying assumptions and dispelling myths so why shouldn't fundraisers do the same? 

The thing to understand is that fundraising, and all forms of marketing, is a scientific experiment that is taking place in real time. The world is your laboratory and you are also a participant; influencing the results sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly. 

There is no single formula that can be learnt by rote and applied to each and every situation in fundraising. That is not to say that you shouldn't apply formulas or try to develop your own methodology. The point is you have to make it your own. 

We will consider various methodologies in future sections of this website (Fundraising in Focus). For the most part however, the key to implementing a good fundraising strategy hinges on doing the right thing in the right context; not the cleverness of any one particular technique. 

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