Opinion

Amp Up Your Attitude to Fundraise From Individual Givers for Your Nonprofit

fundraising: Smiling businessman on the phone while reading a document in his office

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People often talk about the art and science of fundraising. And they’re right. Raising money, especially gifts from individuals, takes a strategic mix of savvy relationship building and effective implementation of the right processes, plans and metrics.

But there’s a third piece of the puzzle that we don’t talk as much about … attitude. Attitude dictates our level of confidence to engage donors, it impacts whether we approach our work with an abundance mentality or a scarcity mentality, and it infuses all the training and tools we’ve been given over the years with the organizational will to finally put them to use.

fundraising: Laurel McCombs (headshot), senior philanthropy advisor of The Osborne Group, smiling woman with very thin eyebrows, short black hair, black jacket, magenta top

Laurel McCombs

Most nonprofit staff I meet have been to plenty of trainings. They know, logically, what needs to be done to raise individual gifts. But something always gets in the way — there are too many other priorities, we can’t attract the right people to our board, donors just don’t see our organization as a place to make big gifts and so on and so on.

There are always reasons, and oftentimes legitimate reasons, that we haven’t moved forward, that we haven’t taken the steps we know we need to in order to grow our individual giving programs. But the reality is, there will always be reasons. Our job is not to dwell on what’s getting in our way, but to overcome these challenges for the sake of the youth that need our services.

Your 3 steps

There are plenty of articles and blog posts out there that will tell you HOW to raise individual gifts. My goal here is make sure you’re in the right frame of mind to implement those strategies. If you really want to raise more money from individuals there are three things you have to do today:

  1. Believe in your ability to raise gifts, BIG gifts, from individuals. I recently heard a story from the executive director of a small youth-serving nonprofit. The opportunity arose to ask a prospective donor for a major gift. She knew the donor had the capacity to give a seven-figure gift, but everyone in her organization told her she was crazy to ask someone for that much money. But she believed in the mission and vision of her organization. She made the big ask and got her organization’s first million-dollar gift. 
  2. Make a commitment to individual giving. Let’s face it, none of your current or prospective major donors are sitting around waiting for your phone call. Unlike grant funding or events, there are no external deadlines for our individual giving work. Author Stephen Covey said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage — pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.” Individual giving must become your bigger yes, and to be successful you’ve got to publicly commit to it by setting goals and deadlines and holding yourself and your organization accountable to them. 
  3. Stop looking for a silver bullet. I’m a big fan of the fundamentals. When I coach organizations, I often come back to these most basic elements and tenets of fundraising. Things like having a gift chart, a case for support and a comprehensive fund development plan. And even though almost everyone has heard how important these elements are, most organizations don’t have these fundamental building blocks in place. Too many organizations are waiting for the magic potion that’s going to allow them to raise big gifts quickly and easily. Well, it’s time for some tough love — that’s not going to happen. Raising major gifts isn’t impossible, but it does take work and patience. Believe in the fundamentals and work them consistently and, over time, you will be successful.

I’m a “glass half full” kind of person. I’m never one to ask, “CAN we do this?” I’d always rather ask, “HOW will we do this?” So yes, I believe you can do this. I don’t care how big or small your organization is or what your fundraising history has been. If you have the will to make this happen and you believe that your organizations is worthy of gifts from individuals, you’re halfway there. Be honest with yourself and your team. Why has this been so hard for you in the past and how can you get out of your own way when it comes to implementing the right strategies to succeed?

This might sound like a pep talk. Well, it is. Because sometimes we know exactly what we need to do, but we just can’t make it happen. I know that I need to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, but sometimes I need a little encouragement to get off the couch and do what I know needs to be done.

Well, here’s your dose of encouragement. I believe in the power of philanthropy and I believe that there are people who want to support the change that you are making. And, most importantly, I believe that you can find those people who will make transformational gifts to your organization. So get out there with the right attitude and change some lives!

Laurel McCombs is senior philanthropy advisor of The Osborne Group. She brings more than 18 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and a passion for the role philanthropy can play in changing the world to her work as a consultant, partner and trainer.

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