So frequently, fundraising is a heartless creature, relentlessly centered on wringing the emotions and wallets in our donors in a systematic, scientific way. We build, segment and expand our databases, we take advantage of more and more complicated technology to try to connect to probably the most people, the best people, the richest people, with the least effort and most affordable financial cost. Fundraising becomes sales, using the product the charity's programs rather than athletic shoes.
The charities most successful at fundraising are those that maximize their link with their donors at the very least possible effort and cost. The private connection, where the organization really focuses in around the donor, and gets to know them and what's vital that you them, is definitely saved for that heavy hitters, the main donors, the only ones the organization are able to afford to spend time and effort on. As a result, fundraising often starts to drive programming decisions; i.e., a program may only be initiated if it's felt that it'll be attractive to donors, rather than the most necessary program required.
funding for charities
Is any of this ideal? Absolutely not. At its core, fundraising like this builds false connections using its donors, increases cynicism regarding charitable work and turns charities into businesses.
I have always felt that the relationship between a fundraiser along with a donor ought to be much like those of the connection between an old-fashioned small supermarket and a regular customer. The client comes in at her usual time each week, the grocery store owner arrives to greet her by name (not while he looked up inside a database, but because he knows his customers), chats together with her about what's happening in their lives and also the neighbourhood, already has her staple items all set to go, mentions the sale items that they know she'll like, tosses inside a treat for the kids, and lets her realize that he's some kind of special items coming in in a few days and he will put some aside on her. He's her groceries delivered within the hour, with a local kid that puts her purchases away on her. The client leaves the store feeling part of her neighbourhood, that they continues to be taken care of, that she is special and important, but also it would be unthinkable for her to go elsewhere - her heart can there be, for the reason that store, with that grocery store owner.
Can a sizable charity pull this off? Absolutely not. Large charities are the Walmart of fundraising. They cannot make authentic connections with everyone within their 100,000 record database. While their organizations may have amazing programs which make an excellent difference in our worlds, lives and environment, they just cannot function without the big fundraising machine behind them, and real connection with donors is not possible; it should be automated making efficient towards the fullest extent to bring in as much as possible possible. All this is, of course, a necessary evil and it simply wouldn't be possible to have the funds necessary to carry out the important work that enormous charities do without this type of fundraising.
But smaller organizations can absolutely be that old-fashioned small grocery store! As their donor is made of smaller and their organizational financial needs are less, they are able to place the heart into fundraising. A few committed volunteers can get in touch with the donors, write actual letters using (gasp!) a real pen and address the envelope in actual handwriting. (When's the last time you threw out an envelope which had your handwritten name and address on it without having to open it?)
They are able to use real stamps! The Executive Director can call donors up and inform them what's happening. The ED can write personal notes on the bottom of their fundraising letters to all the donors, not only the top 1%. Small charity can treat their donors like people and get to know them as individuals, learning why this organization means a lot for them and how they are able to best contribute. Donors become real supporters with commitments beyond the financial contribution, instead of walking wallets. This doesn't imply that it's not essential to have a strong database and appropriate technology, follow-up and consistency, obviously. It really implies that smaller charities can go where the larger charities can't - and therein lies the opportunity!