Consider if you have a cherished cause you want to help fund. Or if you have a newly disabled child who needs a fundraiser for special supplies. Or you might want to start—and fund—your own dream cause. If any of that speaks to you, even if as a murmur, then The Open University and I have tips for you.
To start, I once thought I’d turn around the wrestling team’s silent auction. They had few prizes. Not a lot of funds raised. I was about to make the team richer. I drafted a letter to potential donors. It talked about the upcoming silent auction, how many people would attend, and what a prize donation would mean to the wrestling team.
And then I drafted the bait: what the companies would get in exchange of prize donations. We’d put their business cards in front of their featured prizes. We’d mention their business names on tent cards and signage. We’d mention them in a thank you speech.
And then I went to work sending the letter by email to a list of the top 500 companies in the city.
Within a week, one of the wrestlers called me. “I can’t believe how much stuff I’m getting: golf equipment, clothing, gift certificates,” she said.
By the following week, she had to find a new location for the prizes. Her home had been overrun with goods.
And at last, the silent auction was a success.
A decade later, I got invited to interview for a fundraising job. But I was clueless. I wondered, how is fundraising different from prize soliciting? Well, it turns out they are quite similar: when someone does you a good turn, you do them one back. You mention them in social media, emails, newsletters, the whole shebang. Make the donor shine, and you’ve made a generous friend.
But it’s not quite that easy.
Tensions and conflicts of interest can arise for even the most successful fundraiser. In fact, fundraising can turn into a roller-coaster.
For instance, you might get a scolding if you take funds from oil and gas companies when your charity is in British Columbia. The Open University says, “Sometimes it may … be alleged that the requirements of funders may take priority over the needs of your service users in a way which threatens to distort the mission of the organization” (21%).
According to The Open University, other issues that can arise include: “ Potential conflict between fundraising and other organizational goals.  Dealing with the fact that different stakeholders have different views and interests.  Deciding where the dividing line comes between sources of funding and support which are acceptable and those which are not” (59%).
But the roller-coaster doesn’t end there.
Even when you (the fundraiser) and the organization work well with one another, you may end up short on funds. That means you bear the brunt for souls not getting their needs met:
“If, for example, you are providing services for homeless people, you can only provide the amount of service for which there is funding, no matter how much the demand from homeless people increases. This can lead to stress and burnout for project staff, who may have to make heartbreaking decisions about who does or does not receive your help. This in turn puts pressure on you as a fundraiser” (29%).
As another bump on the roller-coaster, sometimes your organization lets down your funders: “Many voluntary and public organizations find it hard to acknowledge the legitimacy of the interest and stake of funders, donors, sponsors or supporters in the work of the organization” (31%).
To illustrate, a charity I raised funds for would not give my funders a tax-deductible receipt. So, when it came time for my funders to donate to causes in general, they said, “Forget that,” to my charity. The charity didn’t scratch their backs, so the funders balked. Their needs weren’t met.
So, what are ways of meeting funders’ needs?
First, make them feel part of a worthy cause: “balanc[e] the need to present the organization in a way that will be attractive to donors, perhaps by using emotive stories, and try to ‘educate’ people about the work of the organization” (69%).
Second, “offer them something they need, and [let them] reciprocate with something of value to you—be it funding, time, attention, approval, or opportunities” (46%). All relationships must be win-win, but the more you give, the more everyone gains. At least, that’s my philosophy on fundraising—and life.
So, don’t be shy to raise funds for your dearest cause. You’ll gain great work experience and a double dose of karma. And don’t worry about the roller-coaster; it’s more fun than scary. Besides, everyone needs a hero. And that hero is you!