Fundraiser – you can be the difference: 4 tips to get started on the right track

Published by Wayne McKenzie on

A friend of mine has spent three years working with refugees on the border of Turkey and Syria. Sometimes the challenges were overwhelming, 16 hour days for weeks on end, as the stream of people continued to surge. What difference can one person make? Yet she did. She is a water and sanitation engineer. On one occasion, she arrived on the scene of a seething mass of humanity trying to set up a place to survive in the middle of nowhere. Within one day she had bulldozers and trucks with equipment on site, and within a week drinking water and satisfactory toilets were available. Order began to emerge from the chaos. She was making a difference.



For a charity dependent of philanthropy to survive and thrive, the fundraiser can be just as crucial as my friend among the refugees. We often talk about the donor making a difference. We hope to inspire and encourage them to give again, and give more. But you as fundraiser have a unique role to make a significant difference for your organisation and the people you serve.

Many people however, begin fundraising not really knowing what is needed, not knowing what to do or how to do it. And unfortunately, there are few educational opportunities before you start.

So here are four things I fervently believe can help a new fundraiser get started on the right track.

1.     A Vision and a Goal

Do you have an inspiring vision?

One of the most remarkable events of my lifetime was watching Neil Armstrong take ‘one small step for man…’ on the moon in 1969. That step was the culmination of a vision shared with the USA in 1961 by President JF Kennedy. In his ‘Moon Speech’ at Rice University, he inspired the nation with his vision to put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth within the decade.

So, how good is your idea? How important is your cause? How critical is the problem you are trying to solve? Do you really believe in what you are doing? Does that inspire and motivate you? Fundraising is asking someone to join you in changing or saving people’s lives.

If you feel your vision is not big and inspiring, ask yourself – what would we do with an unmarked gift of $500, or $5,000 or $50,000? What could you do with an extra gift of $50,000 or $500,000 or $5,000,000? Then think about what you might need to do to raise that amount over the next 1, 2, or 3 years.

2.     Passion and Commitment

New Zealanders like to think the All Blacks are the best rugby team in the world. The present captain, Richie McCaw, is possibly the best rugby player ever. Many in the team have skills or experience to equal him, and some have the same passion for the game, but no one comes equal to putting it all together and for the difference he makes. His dedicated effort shines above all others. Your role as a fundraiser is as important to your organisation as Richie McCaw is to the All Blacks.

Nancy Brinker’s sister died in 1980 at age 36 from breast cancer. Nancy Susan G Komen Foundation Supported by OPENonlinedecided to do something about that, and created a foundation to raise funds for breast cancer research, education and health services. In 30 years they have raised $1b, and promised to raise another $2b in this decade. Why? Because Nancy decided fighting breast cancer was a cause worth fighting for.

So – is your cause worth fighting for?

It’s not about competition with other charities, and fighting for a bigger slice of the pie. We need to increase the size of the pie. Right now there are more organisations than ever before trying to raise funds, but there are also more people, more money and more opportunities than ever before.

3.     Ask – and it will be given to you

Do you like asking for money? If you don’t ask, who will?

If you can answer the previous questions affirmatively, this one shouldn’t be hard. Too many charities in New Zealand rely too much on grants from Trusts and Foundations. They need to diversify and recognise most philanthropic giving comes from individuals, and that is the area of greatest potential growth.

Asking people to support or invest in what you are doing is simply one of the best things you could do. But how much will you ask for? Recently at a conference I asked the delegates to ask their neighbour for a gift for their work. About 30% got a positive response. Some others thought I was joking and didn’t take it seriously, so they missed out on a gift.

The hurdle of asking is only one obstacle. Another is the problem of overheads and the cost of fundraising. This can be a barrier that diverts some fundraisers from being bold and going all out. Dan Pallotta makes a great case for this in his Ted Talk, ‘The way we think about charity is dead wrong’. The important figure is not what you spend on fundraising, but how much you have for the cause. Your Board of Trustees should watch this video at least once every year.

4.     Donors are your best asset

Donors are often called supporters, but that doesn’t epitomize the real relationship and importance of donors to a charity. Marriage has been replaced by partnership for many couple relationships, and partnership is a better description of the kind of relationship many donors want with the charities they support.

Being-In-Love-Quotes-38Have you ever been in love, trying to woo someone? Fundraising is a lot like a courtship: attracting someone, establishing and building a relationship you hope will last a lifetime. Think of the effort that goes into that, the sacrifices, special treats, thinking more of the other person than yourself in order to gain their loyalty and support.

Unfortunately in too many marriages (and partnerships) things don’t always turn out how they hoped after the wedding.  Sometimes, one person takes the other for granted, stops making the effort, gets preoccupied, or just loses interest, maybe for another.

Do you love your donors?

As a fundraiser, treat your donor as a real person, not a piece of data. I did a test 9 years ago with one charity and only gave them my initials and surname. If you don’t know their first name, how will you address them? Over the years I’ve been addressed many different ways including Dear Supporter, Dear friend, Dear DW. All they had to do was check the phone book, electoral roll, or even Google my surname and address. I tried it and my full name and other details appeared 10 times instantly.

Treat your donor as one who chooses to give to you and not to another organisation or spend it on herself. If you have gone to a lot of trouble and someone responds to your appeal for funds, how do you acknowledge their generosity? I recently made three donations online that were up to 10 times the normal donation. The responses were underwhelming. E.g. “Thank you for making a donation of $….  Warm regards, (name), CEO.” That was it.

Treat your donor as a genuine stakeholder, a partner, not just a member of the masses. A few years ago I forgot our wedding anniversary. I remembered four days later only to discover with relief my wife had also forgotten.  That was the only occasion I forgot. Imagine if I repeatedly forgot or never bothered. My wife would be pretty disappointed. We fundraisers could bring a pleasant surprise to our donor partners by remembering the anniversary of their first gift, acknowledging and celebrating their loyalty and shared commitment to the cause, especially after 10, 20, and 30 years.

Let your donors know what you have achieved with their investment. A donor’s gift may only be a drop in the bucket, but everybody wants to be on the winning team. Share with them the successes and the struggles, the opportunities and the obstacles. I like how the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation shared some of its achievements at a personal level, showing the changes in patients’ lives.

So to sum up:

  1. Be proud to be a fundraiser
  2. Get hold of a big vision and goal
  3. You need passion and commitment to win
  4. Ask and it will be given to you
  5. Look after your donors. Appreciate what you have, before it turns into what you had.

(Based on presentation at FINZ 360 Training Day, Auckland, 17 September 2015)

Wayne McKenzie

Wayne McKenzie is an esteemed and award winning fundraising professional with 30 years experience working with charities in New Zealand. Wayne was a foundation member of the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand and is now a regular speaker at Conferences and Seminars throughout New Zealand. Fundraising consultant at AskRIGHT, he helps non-profit organisations raise more money by providing optimal fundraising strategies, identification of donors and fundraising training. Based in Auckland, New Zealand.


James Austin, CEO FINZ · October 9, 2015 at 04:07

Like all good teachers and practitioners Wayne, you have summed up neatly and effectively what it is to be a charity fundraiser.

it is not just selling, it is believing in the cause and the positive difference you and your donors are making. You are making the dream become a reality.

Great article Wayne this will encourage new fundraisers to grow and develop their skills.

D Gandar · October 9, 2015 at 22:44

Good description & looks a lot like the attributes of good leadership. That is to
– help, motivate or inspire someone
– set an example that others want to follow
– show a greater good – do the right thing
– help reach a specific goal esp. a shared one
– back yourself – show commitment & initiative
– focus group energy by capturing a shared feeling or motivation

So fundraising is a leadership act.

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