March: Everybody Fundraises – If You Want to Be Distinctive, You Must Advance Toward Development

Last month’s article described the differences between fundraising and development. While fundraising (candy sales, car washes, sales of products, etc.) is still important in the short-term, the long-term way to ensure the viability of an organization is through development (which includes annual and alumni appeals, grantwriting, major gifts, planned giving and business/corporate sponsorship). The article ended asking the question, “Why is fundraising non-threatening and development threatening? Fundraising is non-threatening because everybody fundraises.  But if you want your organization to be distinctive, you can’t be “just like everybody else.”

Fundraising organizations sell wrapping paper, cookie dough, pizza, candy, and soft pretzels to raise money to fund their projects. While a “Signature Fundraiser” can generate some significant dollars (for instance, a hoagie sale that generates $10,000 in revenue every year, or parish fish frys during Lent that can bring in over $10,000 a week), most fundraising projects bring in a maximum of $5,000 – which is why there has to be so many of them. Also, when other organizations see you doing a ton of work for a fundraiser, and it generates only $2,000 to $3,000 in revenue after expenses, those organizations will seek some other type of fundraising program with the hope that it will raise more revenue with less work.

Sadly, they don’t.

Worse, adding more fundraising programs become viewed as “Just another sale,” or create the mindset of “We’re always selling something!”  Indeed, many fundraising activities are associated with selling something, because it’s promoted to be “easy.”  After all, everyone likes pizza, right?  Everyone has to buy cookie dough, especially since the PTA will want you to make cookies for their next meeting.  But truthfully, is selling something “easy?” Ask someone in sales in a struggling economy, or anyone in a sales profession where technology has had an impact (yes, that would be every industry you can think of today).

If your organization is selling hoagies (submarine sandwiches, grinders, or whatever you may call them in your area of the country), or popcorn, cookie dough or candles, usually the first thing that gets cut from the family budget are things they don’t really “need” – like hoagies, popcorn, cookie dough or candles.

Let’s continue that metaphor. While “sales professionals” may do quite well in their field of expertise, the image of the “salesperson” in the general public is not a very positive one. Many parents wonder when their child who has accepted a position as a sales representative as their first job out of college will get a “real job.” Even though some colleges now have degree programs in Sales, most of them don’t.  Many also do not offer degree programs in Advancement, even though every institution of higher learning has an Advancement Office. Why? Perhaps it’s because trained Development professionals would be very much in demand. Rather than producing an alum who could contribute to her Alma Mater, the development professional would be hired by a different institution of higher learning to help them raise significant funds.

Indeed, Development, as opposed to Fundraising, has the potential to bring in significant dollars in the five- and six-figure range, and even into the seven and eight-figure range. It takes a lot of up-front work, initiating, growing and developing relationships, seed-planting, cultivation and harvesting, as well as time for planning, implementing and asking, but projects that continue to interest and engage audiences outside of the organization open the doors to people who want to support the good work that the organization does precisely because of what the organization does – not because of what it sells.

At first, the going can be very slow (and usually is) to the point that if administration doesn’t see a quick increase of income, they’ll scrap development and continue with the search for the perfect fundraiser.  Unfortunately, there are no perfect fundraisers.  Author and consultant Patrick Lencioni (“The Advantage,” “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”) has said that we don’t like hard, simple solutions; we like easy complex ones.  Fundraising is the latter.  Going “back” to fundraising is retrogression. Even the term “advancement” suggests there is only forward movement. There is no “reverse.”

Successful development efforts are threatening to other organizations because once someone sees the potential, other organizations become interested in doing the same thing, and just might approach the same audiences for the same significant support.  The danger is the organization can then be viewed as an imitator, rather than as an innovator.

Here’s another way to look at it. If you want the organization to remain small, then fundraising will probably work for you as the way to generate revenues for your organization. However, if you’d like your organization to grow, or “develop,” just as the human body develops over time with good nutrition and exercise, then you must embrace Development as an essential part of your organization – not something that’s “nice if we had the time for it.”

Next month, why the threatening nature of development is merely a perception. It seems “real” because “perception is reality.”

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2017