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Fundraising: Putting mission over money

October 31, 2017
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Fundraising is one of the most important parts of operating a not-for-profit organization, but many groups struggle with having the “money talk.” Too often, organizations put the money ahead of the mission, focusing on how much needs to be raised instead of explaining the value of the organization’s work, says Jennifer McCrea, Harvard professor and co-author The Generosity Network: Aligning Money, Meaning and Social Change, in a keynote address at this week’s LeadingAge Annual Conference in New Orleans.

“I see it all the time: An organization will put a big sign on the wall that says, ‘Our goal is $25 million.’ I hate to say it, but that isn’t the right goal. The work is your goal,” McCrea says. “Money is just the gas in the car. It’s not the driver or the destination.”

Instead, organizations should involve members of the community in discussions about improvements and initiatives, and get the talking about how they can be part of the project. Doing so can inspire true generosity for causes that matter to them.

Fundraising events certainly don’t need to be the stereotypical chicken dinners and Powerpoint presentations, she urged. “Get 12 to 14 people seated around a dinner table engaged in a real conversation about a real topic,” she suggests.  “Focus on the work, not the money. How are you giving people the opportunity to be part of the improvement or change?” That way, the end action isn’t “open your wallet,” it’s “come work with us.”

Many senior living organizations miss opportunities because they focus only on legacy giving and estate planning instead of finding new corporate and individual partners, she adds.  “85-90 cents of every dollar comes from living people.”

While the philanthropic end-goals may be the most important, they aren’t the be-all, end-all of being an organization involved in change and progress, she notes. “Making the world a better place is about what you’re doing right here, right now,” she said. “It’s not a destination you get to later.”

Words matter, and putting mission over money takes rephrasing the way we communicate, McCrea says. Some tips:

  • Don’t use the word “donor.” Calling someone a “partner” instead can inspires both interaction and follow up.
  • Stop saying “we need your help.” Try changing the mindset of the conversation by saying, “we’re looking for people who want to work with us to achieve this.”
  • Don’t place all your actions at the end of the fundraising campaign. Having incremental or progressive actions can show you are dedicated to the ongoing nature of the work and to showing progress throughout the process.
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