The 3 Most Damaging Fund Raising Myths – Part II

Note:  This post is part II of a series of III in which I will identify 3 separate fund raising myths that make us less productive. The first installment in this series focused on the myth of donors giving only (or substantially more) for restricted purposes.  This second post springboards off that myth and highlights the false idea that cases for support should focus predominantly on how gifts will be used. 

While there are many fund raising myths held by people not employed in our field, the myths that are most injurious are the ones held by those of us who labor in the development vineyard.  These myths are far more damaging to our efforts because they either consciously or subconsciously inform how we approach our work and invite other people to support our missions.

Far too many development and advancement folk believe that clearly communicating your funding priorities in a case for support is more important than communicating the compelling reason(s) why a donor should care enough to give in support of your mission in the first place.

The longer I’m involved in our work, the more concerned I become that development professionals assume far too much about donor motivations.  The thinking goes something like, “of course donors understand that higher education transforms lives.”  Or, “of course donors understand that healthcare saves lives.” Or, “of course donors understand that there is a real need to clothe and feed people in our community.”

Because we make these fundamental assumptions, we craft our case for support documents focused on the specifics of how we would invest donor gifts.  We focus on new buildings or renovations, or new programs, or growing endowments for specific programs.  And we give short shrift to reminding donors why they should care deeply about our mission.

Earlier this week I attended the CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement in NYC and listened as the volunteer chair for Georgia Tech’s recent $1.5 billion campaign discuss her experience leading the effort.  She said, “We have a tendency to talk a lot about the buildings and the programs, but let me encourage you as development professionals to remember that those buildings and programs aren’t why your donors are giving.  They will consider an increase in their giving when they have a clear understanding of the impact their giving will make on the future.”

The most efficient way to discourage a focus on communicating funding needs is to explicitly connect your funding priorities to a broader strategic plan for your institution.  In this way, you can more easily focus your case for support on addressing the question, “why are we attempting to raise this money?”  Your strategic plan should articulate the real-world, true-life impact your institution aims to make over a multi-year period and the metrics you will use to evaluate your progress.  The fund raising in support of this planning, then, becomes another tool to be employed to achieve these strategic aims.

If you seek to turbo-charge your development efforts, reject this myth when you hear it (or think it yourself).  A compelling case for support isn’t driven by an explanation of how the gifts will be spent.  A compelling case is driven by reminding donors why they should care enough to give in the first place.

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