Where are all the fundraising heroes?

There is very little that is heroic about fundraising. And that’s sad, because there should be.

And by heroic, I don’t mean:

  • Commendable, touching, or really cool;
  • Successful (i.e., raised a lot of money);
  • Heart-wrenching (i.e., generates an emotional response).

I mean:

  • Heart pounding;
  • Changes the very identity of the giver;
  • The stuff of legend;

Dan Pallotta, whose Harvard Business Review stuff is always a good read, blogged about that this week in a piece entitled, When Your Goal Is The Impossible:

For two years before I saw the film [Alive, the story of plane crash survivors hiking out of the Andes], I’d had this idea for a 600-mile bicycle ride to raise money for AIDS but was too intimidated to do anything about it. Walking out of the theater, some voice that didn’t seem entirely mine said, “That’s it, we’re going to build the AIDS Ride.” And the next day my staff and I began trying to figure out how to get 500 people to bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It seemed impossible at the time. It hadn’t been done before. But a little over a year later, 478 heroic people of all shapes and sizes, most of whom hadn’t been on a bike in years, finished the 600-mile journey, netting a million dollars for AIDS.

As we rode into West Hollywood together, I couldn’t stop crying.

I would cry at dozens of these kinds of closing ceremonies over the years as tens of thousands of average people completed long journeys after raising large sums of money for urgent causes — both things they never thought they could accomplish when they started.

Why in fundraising do we say that an activity is successful if it raises money and is generally ethical? Isn’t that an exceedingly low standard? Why can’t we say that an activity raising money is a necessary but insufficient condition of calling it a success?

Then we would be doing more than fundraising. We would be doing, you know, development.

As I think back over my development career so far, I find that the most successful campaigns I have been involved in so far have done more than transfer money into a nonprofit’s bank account.

They ennobled people. For a brief moment, people truly became heroes.

They didn’t just get called heroes. And it wasn’t because we stroked them and said, “You are really a hero!”

I mean:

People became heroes.

  • If you can describe your fundraising activities and only get choked up by the brochure or PowerPoint and the “take” for the night, not the heroics of those in the moments in the middle…
  • If your fundraising doesn’t make your donors better, more capable people…
  • If people who participate in your fundraising activities don’t reminisce about them and tell other people about them and describe them as life-changing moments…

…then it’s no wonder that you don’t like the job of fundraising, that you see it as a necessary evil–a vile means to a noble end–rather than a mutual adventure of discovery with your weird and very cool donor friends.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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10 Responses to Where are all the fundraising heroes?

  1. Spencer says:

    And at the end of the day…when God asks, “How were you faithful with the talents I gave you?” who is going to give Him their really cool ‘ministry brochure’ and hope He gets choked up by it?

  2. Don says:

    Is it time to consider changing our terminology? Rather than seeking to redeem “fundraising,” we might consider seeing “our call as Kingdom advancing?” While the issue of funds is evident in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry, I do not see anything remotely identifiable as related to common fundraising practices. That is why I have struggled for 25 years as a leader in the non-profit world. I appreciate all you are doing to call us to a biblical, God-honoring approach.

    • EFoley says:

      Thanks for your encouragement, Don. I couldn’t agree with you more that a complete overhaul is needed, that’s for sure…

    • Rob says:

      I hear you Don! A Kingdom perspective is fundamental to fundraising. This may sound strange, but lately, the Lord has been showing me that I have the unique and privileged role of playing a part in Revelation 7:9 – and so do givers. Ministry fundraisers (and donors) are, in essence, playing a part to gather “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” If that’s not “heart pounding”, I don’t know what is. Our ministry here at Pioneers is focused on that very thing – engaging the unreached, and for the first time in my so-called “ministry” career, I sense that fundraising allows me to connect “donors” to God’s heart for the nations. Excuse me while I pick my heart up off the ground – it’s jumped out of my chest!

  3. cfctreasures says:

    I would add that transformational efforts don’t come with a guarantee, which is apparently what many current funders believe is needed before supporting a cause.

    In a somewhat surprising source, Clint Eastwood actually has the best line about this, and the article below is from my blog at http://www.cfctreasures.wordpress.com.

    Non-Profits and Funders, Take Clint’s Advice:

    “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster!” Clint Eastwood.

    How Non-Profits are Learning the Wrong Lessons from Business, and Ignoring the Good Lessons

    Bill Huddleston, The CFC Coach, [email protected]

    More and more non-profit blogs and consultants, as well as both government and foundation funders are becoming more and more insistent about the need for non-profits to evaluate their results. What’s often used as the model for this is some version of the mantra: “Non-profits need to be more like a business.”

    What’s implied, and indeed often said, is that if the non-profit providing the service cannot show results that there won’t be any funding. At one level this sounds very basic, and what could be wrong with “demonstrating results” before funding? Well, actually a lot as it turns out.

    Here’s a short list of projects that would have failed if the visionary leaders that made them happen had to demonstrate “proven results before funding:”

    The electric light bulb (Thomas Edison)
    The invention of the airplane (Wright Brothers)
    The polio vaccine (Jonas Salk)
    The battery (Benjamin Franklin)

    This is obviously just a short list, and there are thousands of other examples, whether they are products or methods of dealing with a problem, e.g. “voluntary associations” to use Alexander de Tocqueville term.

    Non-profits and funders are learning the wrong lesson when they insist upon results before funding, especially for a new non-profit, or one that is attempting a new way of dealing with a problem that may be thousands of years old (hunger, etc.) or one that is more recent (AIDS, etc).

    “Demonstrate results and then we’ll fund you,” of course sounds seductively real to the non-profit seeking funds, and where the danger lies is that the non-profit will overpromise and under deliver. “Of course, we’ll solve X problem in the space of time your grant will cover, we have great people working on it, and it’s an issue that can be addressed by our unique approach.” Please make it a five year grant, but if you won’t do that, make it at least a three year one so we can actually make a dent in this problem.

    The second seductive phrase issued by the funder is often a variation of, “And once you’ve demonstrated these results, this will of course indicate scalability, and we’ll help you grow from being just a local community non-profit to one that’s working and recognized on a national or global scale.” This is regardless of whether or not scalability makes sense for this particular issue. Scalability is a false idol.

    When a visionary entrepreneur starts a business, there is obviously hope and belief that it will succeed, but the reality is that most businesses fail, and that very few of them grow and become super successful. What’s often not realized that it may be the same person that fails at a particular business before he or she gets everything right – the Ford Motor Company was the third company founded by Henry Ford, the first two failed. Microsoft was not Bill Gates first company, (although granted he formed his first one while he was a teenager).

    Non-profits are dealing with the toughest problems on the planet, including many that will never be solved by a “market solution.” If you’re funding a non-profit pick one that deals with an issue you care about, and support them in every way, but don’t demand results before action. If you do, you by definition are restricting the activities and approaches to the most conventional, and ignoring the possibility of a quantum leap of success.

    Clint Eastwood has it right when he says, “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster” and while he may have been talking about the movie industry, it also applies to the non-profit world. Let’s not have our brains and visions stifled by the limiting belief that “results must be demonstrated before funding.” If you don’t like the approach a particular non-profit is taking, choose to fund a different one, but don’t micromanage and limit their ability to succeed by insisting upon results first.

    That’s acting like the little boy that planted a garden and went to complain to his mother two weeks later that “Mom, Nothing is growing in my garden.” “How do you know?” asked his mother, “Because I dug everything up to see what was happening!”

    Bill Huddleston
    The CFC Coach
    [email protected]

  4. Renae says:

    Great insight! I’ve been working in Development for almost five years and have grown in my understanding of “raising up stewards who are rich towards God.” we created a blog for our ministry partners where we share updates of what’s happening and then each Friday we write something about our own stewardship journeys or share resources about stewardship from around the web.

    Check out one of our recent posts about how our “fund-raising” Golf Challenge affected the life of one of the golfers – http://www.keynote.org/connection/2010/04/28/golf-is-a-life-changing-experience/

    It really is about more than just the bottom line.

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