Spell check has it right– it’s an awful word. Only the tiniest percentage of what a “fundraiser” does is to raise funds. Those of us in the industry are doing ourselves a huge disservice by using this term.

We all know that a fundraiser, well, raises funds. But this leads to the number one phone call or email that I get: “we want you to raise some money for us” and #2 “we want you to write us a grant (sic) for Project X”.  My response to #1 is–what do I have to work with, and to #2– you can’t afford that.

That’s because these organizations are skipping the most important part of “fundraising” which is the research, leg work, and relationship building that goes into it.  Here’s what comes before the ask-for-money part:

Who are you asking?

Do you have a list of people–patrons, followers, philanthropies, foundation staff–who know your organization? And by “know your organization” I don’t mean “are on the eblast list.” These need to be people whom you have actively engaged on some level. You need to identify your patrons and then work at turning them into donors. So maybe instead of “fundraisers” we should be “patronraisers.” (Do NOT use the term “friendraiser” around me. I get violent.)

What are you asking them?

“Please donate because our earned income (i.e. the stuff you buy from us) doesn’t cover the cost of operations.” And as a patron, I care about this why? This does not sound like you need my help, this sounds like you don’t run your business very well.  I’d like it better if you told me first the impact my gift will have, and second what the benefit will be to me. So maybe instead of “fundraiser” we should using a term like “awarenessraiser.”

When are you asking them?

All the time, I hope. But we’ve just learned that you’re not only asking for dollars. What you’re really asking is for them first to think about your issue,  field, or art form, and second to associate your organization as the go-to group. This makes you, hmmm, the “informationraiser.”

What are you saying to them?

Do you only communicate with this mythical patron just before the gift (the ask) and just after (the thank you)? If so, you’re missing a whole lot of patron-awareness-info raising in between. Make sure everything you send out has a call to action, and not always a call to spend money on that action. This is easier than ever with social media, but should also be a part of your geographic location, and of your traditional media–mail, print, and radio. Don’t be afraid to talk about others in your field, either. The fact that you know your industry will settle out as a positive. Let’s add “engagementraiser.”

How are you asking?

I have a mantra. I hang it over my desk at every job: ask the right person the right question the right way at the right time. There is no such thing as an “ideal” patron. I tear my hair out every time I hear some arts organization avow that “well our patrons are old.” Yes they are, if you’re only using communications that old people are comfortable with. Furthermore, you’re only reaching the old people who are comfortable with that method–you’re not getting to the ones that like other info sources. Everything has to line up. Know your audience. Call it “demographicraising.”

You begin to see my point– I haven’t asked for a dime, but I’ve established my patrons, made them aware, given them info, engaged them in my issue, and learned about them. They know me, trust me, and look to me for information that they want.

Now I think I can do some fundraising.