Fundraising – The Ultimate Guide To Getting Donors!

Fundraising is so scary… Yet Everyone Is BORN With The Innate Skills.

Fundraising is scary. Fundraising is only for highly trained, seasoned professionals. The average person does not have the skills, let alone the nerve to help with fundraising efforts. After all, asking for money is a very specialized field. It is hard and scary. You could never ask anyone for money, so it is best that you stay far away from all fundraising efforts, right?


In the minds of most people, fundraising conjures up an image of standing on a street corner, sticking their hand out and asking total strangers to give to a cause that no one has ever heard of. But that could not be further from the truth. The most highly trained, seasoned fundraising professionals would quit their jobs tomorrow if they were told that is what they must do in order to raise money for a cause. 

Fundraising has four concrete, linear steps.

  1. Research
  2. Interact
  3. Ask
  4. Thank

If you think about it, human beings innately understand the above four items almost from birth.  This is not a nature/nurture question. These four steps are built into our DNA and we use them for a specific reason – in order to perpetuate our species. 

Recall when you first saw that special someone across the way. Maybe they were strolling a campus or sitting in a coffee shop, or possibly the two of you were set up through a mutual friend. Did you immediately walk up to them, clear your throat and use an opening line anything near the phrase, “Ummm… ahhh… hmmm… will you sleep with me?” Of course not. But if we know that doesn’t work to start a relationship in the dating world, why is it that even the brightest board members and nonprofit executives sit around tables and discuss names of individuals they know while staff hand out pledge cards and encourage everyone to go ask these people for a donation to the cause? At best, this approach will get one small gift – which is the dating equivalent of a one-night stand. 

Fundraising for schools & nonprofits

When you first notice someone of interest in the dating world, you seek ways to learn more about them. You ask their friends, try to find out where they spend their time, who they hang out with and what their interests are. 

Then, unless you have been set up, you bump into them and find a way to create small talk. Next you take a deep breath and light-heartedly tell them you would like to share a cup of coffee sometime. If you are lucky enough for them to meet you for coffee you pay close attention to their words, their actions and whether they pay attention to you. 

Are they distracted and distant while sitting across from you in the crowded Starbucks or are they attentive as well? While continuing to sip your iced coffee you look for common ground and see if there is an opening to casually mention that the two of you should do some activity you both enjoy. If the response is affirmative, you find an occasion during the next date to touch them casually as you walk to or from the activity… and so on. 

Dating has four concrete, linear steps.

  1. Research
  2. Interact
  3. Ask
  4. Thank

Yes, this list is the same as the other one above. This is EXACTLY how good fundraising is done. After you identify a potential donor you research them and find out their interest in your cause and if they have the capacity to give at the level you are looking for. You find out what else they give to and where they volunteer their time. 

When you have done your research, you find someone to introduce you or seek ways to be in the same place as them and have small talk. Hopefully over time this may lead to a more serious conversation. 

THEN you invite them to an event, to meet with a key staff member or to come see your facility. 

It is true that some people are far better at the dating process than others just as some people are better at the asking-for-money part of fundraising than others. We all have the basic skillsets hard wired into our psyche but those skills play out more naturally for some people. To those of us who struggle with dating, we find comfort in helping a friend who is interested in someone. That is fun. 

We enjoy getting together and talking about someone else’s dating issues and helping them resolve the problem. That can also be the case for those not comfortable asking for money. 

Make sure your website is up to date! (Blog Post on Websites) 

Step #1: Research 

Research and attention to detail is more than just ok in the dating world. Your friends are thrilled to help you learn more and plan out your next move. They revel in the game of helping you hunt down information on the person who has caught your attention. 

Why not do the same with potential donors? If board members understand that relationship building IS the philanthropic process, they may soon revel in the game as much as your friends did in helping set you up with your future mate. If you don’t believe that last part, see how they react when you tell them about the significant gift they played even a small part in securing.


Step #2-3: Interact & ASK

The middle two steps – interacting and asking, are where we as humans stumble in both scenarios. Some people are shy. Some people have low self-esteem, while others simply haven’t grown up in an environment that taught them solid people skills. 

Whatever the case, this is where some shine and others don’t. You can grow over time, but to some degree you are either born with the right personality, or you struggle all your life with parts of the process. 

Fortunately for those that struggle in the dating world, you may only need to take a deep breath a few times (or for a few years) before you find the right one and then hopefully you never have to go through that awkward time again in your life. However, that’s a bit different than being a fundraising professional. 

If you are a major gifts officer in the nonprofit world you will be courting donors and asking often – so you either enjoy it and thrive, or you don’t. 


Step #3: “The ASK” 


The “ASK” is a big step whether one is dating or fundraising. Think of the importance society puts on how you go about getting engaged. 

A lot of thought goes into the planning – or at least it should, because getting that wrong is a big deal! The same can be said for the preparation that goes into how one asks for a donation. 

Whether you are writing an annual campaign letter or having dinner with a major donor you have been courting for months, planning is critical. Timing is everything! You don’t want to pop the question “Will you marry me?” before your future life partner is comfortable being asked or, just as bad, waiting until they have given up on the ask ever coming. The exact same holds true for fundraising. 


Step #4: Thank You

The final step is gratitude. Properly thanking a donor is key to continuing the relationship, just as in marriage showing appreciation to each other is how you keep the fire burning bright. 

As givers we subconsciously anticipate the thank you. The smile on the face of the recipient puts a smile on the giver’s face. The “thank you” is always responded to with a bright face and some form of the words “You are welcome”. Think about how you would feel if you gave someone a gift and they simply opened it and turned and walked away. It doesn’t matter if all you have done is given someone back their own piece of paper they dropped on the ground, we desire, anticipate and even expect a response of gratitude. 

By not properly thanking someone who has given of their hard-earned time, talent or treasure, we are, in the parlance of today’s social media/online dating world “ghosting” our donors. We have disappeared from their lives at the most important time in the giving cycle. 


Get videos to thank your donors! 
Blog post on getting cheap & good videos created by college students



Fundraising and dating BOTH have four concrete, linear steps.

1. Research
2. Interact
3. Ask
4. Thank

When broken down into the same steps as dating, fundraising becomes a relatable subject. For better or worse, every human who has lived a few years beyond puberty has experience with the process. And, even if they haven’t found personal success yet, they have reveled in helping someone else find success. 

Board members, executive directors and even line staff won’t be as scared once they have tapped into their inner matchmaker. They may even surprise you by finding ways to be involved that you didn’t think of because now they laugh when someone tells them “fundraising is scary!”.   


Bonus Tip!

It should be pointed out that the major difference between fundraising and dating lies in the fact that it is considered good business practice to build a large donor base while polygamy is not only frowned upon, but illegal.

About The Author - David Earles

David specializes in marketing, public relations, leadership,  and fundraising in the non-profit industry. With over  22 years of successful management & strategic planning in this space he is your go to guy on pretty much anything nonprofit! 

Director of Development at ADRA International

Executive Director at The Honolulu Zoo

Fundraising and Dating