“Why don’t you have fundraising ideas on your Web site?  We’re a small school and are in need of new fundraising ideas since ones we’ve been holding simply aren’t generating revenue they once did.”

This is an easy one…because, in the long-term, you shouldn’t be doing fundraising for sustainable income.  Fundraising is crisis-oriented, short-term, and unsustainable.  Therefore, if you’re finding that it’s more and more difficult to generate significant amounts of income, you are absolutely right. 

However, fundraising is still important – NOT to raise funds, but to keep your school community of parents strong.  Let me first refer you the section of this Web site called Development Development.  It lists the differences between fundraising and development.  A short definition of each might be helpful in how we currently understand each process:

Fundraising = Generating revenue by way of the net result of a financial transaction; Development = the meaningful involvement of individuals with the mission of your organization.  Or, as I like to look at it, fundraising is any event or action that requires a financial transaction to first take place; development is any event or action that requires a relationship to first be established.

With fundraising, it’s about money; with development, it’s about relationship.  The problem is that we’ve confused the two over the past few decades.  More and more fundraisers burn people (parents who have to sell the stuff and then get it to the customers, customers who buy the stuff, staff who coordinate the projects and administrators who see more and more efforts bring lesser and lesser results) out.

It’s easy to see that fundraising encompasses cookie dough and wrapping paper sales, bake sales (which are becoming more and more scrutinized by local health departments), and magazine or fruit sales.  Anything that has the word “sales” in it is a fundraiser.  I still have schools that tell me they have a great development program because they have a gala dinner, a golf-outing and a car raffle.  Do you have to buy a ticket for the dinner?  Yes.  Do you have to pay a reservation fee for the golf outing?  Yes.  Do you have to buy a ticket for the car raffle?  Yes.  Folks think that because some fundraisers raise significant dollars, they’re not fundraisers anymore.  But they are.

They are, however, better than the cookie dough sales – not because they generate more money, but because they are “lead generators.”  Gala dinners and golf outings require those involved with your organization to invite others that may not be involved with your organization.  They gather.  They greet one another.  They hear the story about your school.  They eat.  They leave and hopefully go spread the good news about your school and their experience at the event.  By the way, does this sound like anything you do on Sunday morning?

It’s nice that these event raise significant dollars – but look at the deeper meaning.  Relationships are being fostered over time.  People are committing their time to organizing these events, and perhaps even their talent (photography, auctioneering, organizational skills, publicity and public relations abilities, etc.) to make these events a success.  The members of the school community work together to make it happen.  It’s not just the work of “the committee;” it’s the work of everyone in the organization.  The event not only benefits the organization financially, but it strengthens the school community.  Why would anyone devote time, talent, and yes, treasure, to make such an event a success, and then choose to withdraw their child from the school?  Large-scale fundraisers are important because they are retention-oriented – not revenue-oriented.

How does development benefit?  When all those new people that have come to the golf outing are added to the annual appeal database and are eventually approached for a gift through a campaign, a major gift solicitation, or a planned giving bequest.

If you’re not doing those things, then you’re really not “doing” development.  Then I usually hear, “But we have a development director, and they’re in charge of planning all the fundraisers!”  If that’s the case, and they’re not focusing on the annual appeal, campaigns, major gift solicitations and planned giving, working with alumni and the local business community to make significant gifts to the school, and sharing the good news about the successes of the school to all its constituent groups, they’re not doing the job of a development director.  Development is long-term, and individuals that are “planning all the fundraisers” are being expected to make short-term significant gains – which causes them to burnout in less than two years.  Relationships take three to five years to develop.  Significant success happens after an average of seven years.  For more about the thinking behind these assertions, check out http://www.jimcollins.com/media_topics/flywheel.html#audio=93.

As for the opposite of what author Jim Collins calls ‘The Flywheel Effect,” or, “The Doom Loop,” he says such a process begins in the “undisciplined search for a single silver bullet solution – be it a new program, a motivational event, a sexy technology, a big acquisition or a savior CEO.”  The success of your school relies on doing right things every day, realizing that “All things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).  We like to emphasize “work together” or “for good;” but the most important part of that passage is “All things.”  And “With God, ‘All things’ are possible” (Mt 19:26).