Fundraising Training Is Not Fundraising

In Fundraising by Karen Buck

“Sustainable funding is within the reach of every nonprofit organization if they dedicate themselves to making this happen.”

“Fundraising training is one of the many ways we can help ensure that you efficiently and effectively grow your operational funding.”

“Find out how you can raise more money and retain donors with our training.”

(Quotes from three websites on the first page of Google search results for “fundraising training”)

Boy, fundraising training sure does sound great. Sustainable funding is within your reach (and everyone else’s reach, too)! Training is an efficient way to raise more money and keep your donors. Let’s all sign up for fundraising training right now!

Don’t believe the hype.

Training Can’t Do It All

Fundraising training can be incredibly useful – if what you lack is skills in fundraising. But, there’s no such thing as a guarantee that attending fundraising training will bring in money.

What if you never use the skills you learn? And even if you use your newly-minted skills, what if most of your major donors and foundation supporters took a big hit during the recession? Or if you are one of many worthy causes operating in a small, rural, mid-lower income area? What if your organization is poorly run or doesn’t deliver results towards your mission?

Training is not a panacea. No training delivers skills that can overcome market forces, a tapped out fundraising base, or a mismanaged organization. Training doesn’t ensure implementation. It doesn’t make “dead wood” lively again. And for goodness sakes, it doesn’t hold some kind of magical power that will engages board members (whatever that means).

What’s the Disconnect?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of a substantive, learner-centered, performance-focused training. That’s why we do fundraising trainings, and lots of other trainings, too.

Fundraising training is the right tool for you when what stands between you and fundraising success is a skills deficit. But if something else is going on, training won’t help you. Before you sign up for another fundraising training, use a performance management lens to diagnose what’s really going on within your organization. First, consider what is standing in the way of the fundraising performance you’d like to see for your organization and ask:

  1. Is it that we don’t know WHAT to do?
  2. Is it that we don’t know HOW to do it?
  3. Is it that we don’t understand WHY we should do it?
  4. Is it that we don’t WANT to do it?

When You Don’t Know WHAT To Do

Believe it or not, this is a lot more common than you think.

Do you struggle with “engaging board members” or other volunteers in fundraising? Do volunteers say they want to help with fundraising, but then rarely step up or follow through? In my experience, the biggest barrier that keeps board members and volunteers from engaging in your organization’s fundraising work isn’t a lack of fundraising skills. It’s the lack of a fundraising plan that breaks the year’s fundraising strategies down into specific, time-bound tasks (i.e., a project plan)

Just try this little thought experiment. Imagine you just landed a job in sales and all your new boss said to you was things like this:

  • “We really need to step up to the plate and make some sales.”
  • “Does anyone have some time to make some calls?”
  • “Look in your rolodex and give us some names of people we ask to buy some things.”

What would your reaction be?

You’d likely want to know what exactly you’re selling or to whom you’re supposed to sell it? And who do they want you to call? By when? And it’s it kind of weird that they want your rolodex? This company didn’t just start up, did it? Don’t they have any existing customers?

Most of us would be updating our resumes after about a week! But when you issue similarly vague calls to action (“I really need you guys to engage in fundraising this year!”), guess what?

Clarifying What to Do

When those involved in your fundraising efforts don’t know what they need to do, they don’t need training. They need better job description! Take time to break your fundraising plan down to the task level so that at your next meeting, you can say something like this:

“I need two volunteers to spend 5 hours figuring out our sponsorship strategy and brainstorming potential sponsors for this year’s event and present it at the next meeting. I have all the materials from the last year’s event to get you started.”

“Who has time to make 3 calls to some of our important donors? These folks know us well and have given to us for at least 5 years, but didn’t give to us last year. Each call will take 20 minutes and I’d like them to get done by the 20th. You wouldn’t be asking them for money and I can give you some talking points to make the calls easier.”

“Does anyone know any Realtors who work in these two zip codes? We think they might be good business member prospects and want to try scheduling some introductory meetings to explore that. Could you call and make the connection for us by next week?”

Giving detailed task assignments is a best practice of volunteer management. You’d never ask a health education volunteer to “engage in more teaching” would you? No, you’d ask them to teach a specific class, to a specific group, on a specific day, at a specific location.

Start doing the same with fundraising volunteers. Give them specific task assignments and the tools they need to be successful and watch them go! No fundraising training session required! In fact, if what stands between you and fundraising success is people now knowing what to do, think seriously about spending that training money on a contractor to build your project plans, call scripts, etc.

Don’t Know HOW, Understand WHY, or WANT TO?

In my next post, I’ll go over how to handle the other three questions (and training is an answer to one of them!)