No margin. No mission.

So warns Sister Irene Kraus with the Daughters of Charity National Health Care System. It’s a familiar refrain among nonprofit leaders — and not far from the three things Napoleon said were needed to fight a war: money, money, and money.

Nonprofit leaders are preoccupied with money — much more than leaders in other sectors.  Perhaps this is because raising money is harder than making it. Perhaps it is because, no matter have much money they have, they never seem to have as much as they need.

Whatever the reason, for nonprofits to make a difference, they need money. And to make money, they need donors. However, pursuing donors for the sake of their money is a terribly ineffective way to raise the funds nonprofits need to make a difference. On the one hand, it risks leaving the impression on donors that they are only needed for their money. On the other hand, it risks subordinating mission to donor whims.

So how do nonprofit leaders get the money the need?

Individual Giving

In fact, there are many ways for nonprofits to raise money they need (see Ten Nonprofit Funding Models). However, the most common is by individual giving — and for good reason!  It accounts for 70 percent of all giving in the United States — four times more than foundation grants and thirteen times more than corporate donations. What’s more, individual giving is more accessible, more predicable, and more stable than all other types of charitable income. So it make sense for nonprofit leaders to seek to fund their work in this way. But if it isn’t a good idea for them to pursue donors for their money, how is it possible for nonprofit leaders build a base of individual support?

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. However, many nonprofit leaders miss the opportunity. They miss it because they are preoccupied with “making their budget” in the short-term. They miss it because it takes time that they say they don’t have.  And, more to the point, they miss it because it emphasizes donor needs in a way that seems to divide their “primary” mission. — namely, the benefit that they provide to their clients.

The bottom-line: Raising money without pursuing donors requires nonprofit leaders to develop their mission in more than one dimension. It requires them to appeal to donors by including them in the results they are achieving.

A Mission to Funders

Nonprofit missions are more than service transactions. Beyond the value they create for their clients, nonprofits also create value for society and for their donors. The value they create for society is a natural consequence of the services they provide to their clients.  However, the value they create for their donors must be consciously cultivated.

Leaders who figure out how to create value for their donors enable a virtuous cycle that that leads to authentic sustainability for their organization and allows their mission to flourish in a way that is not otherwise possible.

It’s all about making friends and deepening relationships around mission. The challenge is to do this with a lot of people, all at the same time, for a long stretch. Technology can help. But with the power of technology comes the temptation of convenience — and looking insincere.  No one likes to feel like they’ve been processed in a batch. Therefore, it’s important to keep technology in its place. Efficient systems don’t build relationships. Meaningful encounters do.

Donor Management Systems

If you have funds for a donor management solution like Raiser’s EdgeDonorPerfect, or Bloomerang, by all means take advantage of it. But don’t just hand it off to your bookkeeper to keep track of gifts received or to your assistant to mail out the next campaign. Get intimate with the system and use it routinely to help you organize your outreach and to support your effort to develop and deepen relationships with your donors.  If you don’t have funds for a purchased solution, you can do the same thing on paper with donor profiles.

Keeping track of personal information will help you to grow close to donors over infrequent meetings and provide some easy conversation starters as needed. They also simplify the transition between generations of fundraisers by providing successors with useful information about donors and their histories with an organization and its mission. The following is modified version of a form from a book by Harvey Mackay and may serve as an example of the type of information to keep track of as you’re getting to know a donor or prospect.

Prospect Profile

Fundraising Resources

Fundraisers need to be able to build personal relationships with donors and to care deeply about the cause they are promoting. The job also requires a great deal of versatility in an effort to be individually responsive to donors. These are the resources that successful fundraisers rely upon everyday.  Click on the button below for some helpful information about major gift development — and keep in mind that the most important thing to developing donors and raising funds — the capacity to build relationships — is already with you.

Fundraising Resources