Fundraising Almost Always Involves “Change”

Published by Mitchell Hinz on

In 30 years of fundraising, I have never come across any organization that has fully embraced all the types of fundraising that they could be taking advantage of.  In other words, almost every NGO I know “leaves money on the table.”

(I can hear all the fundraising consultants out there saying “Wow, that’s for sure!”).

So, what do we conclude? That to help someone (some group) raise more money, or to raise more money ourselves from inside an organization, we have to help it CHANGE.

The biggest opportunity any group has, is usually the one it isn’t (yet) capitalizing on [rather than improving an existing one]. So helping someone change how they see a task, or their job, or their budget, or their role, can help you raise more money. 

That sounds like a HUGE job. But it doesn’t have to be.  In fact, that is one of the three, simple things you can learn about change, that will help you create it.

But first a note of credit:  NONE of these ideas are mine.  Why should they be?  This is fundraising, and some the best ideas in fundraising are stolen.

What Does It Take to Create Change?

You have a choice right here: 

A) you can either run out and buy Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath (the brotherly writing team who also gave us Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Other Die, an excellent marketing book by the way);


B) you can read on.  Because I’m going to crib it for you.  [then DO go out and buy it].

But again, quickly, a caveat:  SEVERAL of the examples that the Heath brothers cite in the book of successful change, took place in NGOs.  So I’m not browsing the business section and trying to borrow fancy new ideas  from the private sector (as many do). This stuff works.

So, here we go:  what are these three, exciting things that you need to know to create change?

  1. Find the feeling.
  2. Shrink the change.
  3. Grow your people.

Makes no sense, right?  I know.  You’ll get it when I explain it (briefly) below.   [BUY the book, ok?]

  1. Find the Feeling:  The way most of us try to solve problems is with our “head”.  But in fact, it is really our “heart” (or more accurately, our “motivational drive”) that makes change happen.  So if you want to be a change-maker, you have to find the “feeling” that can create change.  In Switch,  the example they use is Target, the retail giant.  While Target aspired to be ‘hip’, it wasn’t until one of their managers created an aspiration for change (one vendor at a time, all thru the giant’s entire supply chain) that “Tar-ZHAY” became the discount-trend setter (which H&M has successfully copied, btw).
  2. Shrink the Change:  The Heath brothers also discovered “there is a clear asymmetry between the scale of the problem and the scale of the solution. Big problem, small solution. Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades.” And this is why the “head” approach is so often wrong-headed. You have to win over the people you need to win their hearts, first.  Then take them thru the change, step by step.
  3. Grow  Your People:  Here, the book gives a terrific story that NGO’s can take to heart. A young Brit, trying to save parrot species on St. Lucia island, sets up an engaging campaign, the right kind of lobbying, and a focus on whom he wanted to change – the public – rather than those who had previously been held responsible for making change (politicians, law-enforcement).   Until then,  ever-harsher laws and penalties had been useless,  and didn’t focus on “the heart” of the matter, which was what the rare species of parrot meant to the islanders themselves.

This last one probably makes the most sense to fundraisers, especially “public” fundraisers (like myself).  But before I close, a few thoughts on barriers to change, from the Heaths:

  1. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. 

To get people to change, you have to change their situation, otherwise they will do what they have always done.  (And there is usually a GOOD reason they have done it that way for so long).  The challenge is that, to help them change, you also have to inspire and guide both their hearts and minds.  But to quote the Heaths, “The problem is: OFTEN THE HEART AND THE MIND DISAGREE!  FERVENTLY!” (emphasis added).  So taking the ‘head’ approach is often futile. (See “parrots” above).

  1. What looks like resistance (to change) can simply be exhaustion.

People spend lots of their energies – especially in work settings – policing themselves. Managing the impressions they are having on others, coping with fears, controlling their work flow, focusing on what they have to do.  Literally, people sometimes don’t have enough “mental energy” to cope with change, because change is not easy.  So what may appear to be resistance, may just be lack of energy.  There are ways around this as well.

  1. What looks like resistance is often also a lack of clarity.

If you want to create change, you need to be clear about what, EXACTLY, needs to change. “Eat a healthier diet!” doesn’t tell people what to change, it just confirms that an unhealthy diet is bad for them.  To give the final quote from the book, “If you want people to change, you must provide CRYSTAL-CLEAR direction.”


There.   I’ve managed to get you thru an entire blog that’s NOT about fundraising.  But actually, it is.  Is your organization NOT doing outreach thru SMS?  Is your web site not keeping your donors informed about what you do?  Is your senior management stopping face-to-face because they think its “old fashioned”, even though it could probably grow if you merged it with new technology?

Then you need to make a change.   Hope this helps.

Mitchell Hinz

Mitchell has more than 25+ years of fundraising and communications experience at NGOs, the first 20 in the USA and the last 5 globally in Europe, East and Southeast Asia and South America. Currently, Mitch is based in Singapore. Experience in all forms of private sector fundraising including Individual, Corporate, Major Donor, Special Event and Legacy. Specialist in individual and membership programs, public direct marketing of all types.

1 Comment

Daryl Upsall · December 8, 2011 at 12:31

Great article…thanks Mitchell. I hope the sun is shining wher you are raining in Brusels but will share this article with 90 Belgian fundraisers tomorrow! Cheers Daryl

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