The purpose of fundraising seems to be what the word says: FUND raising. That seems self-explanatory. Fundraisers raise the funds. Or more basically – get the money.

That is what is wrong with the word, since it implies that the only thing one does in a fundraising function is to secure funds.

Some folks have substituted “FRIEND-raising” for fundraising in an effort to downplay the financial acquisition aspects of fundraising and up-play the relational aspects. It’s a reasonable label. But just as a focus on getting the money depreciates the human and relational side of fundraising, the “friend-raising” approach makes securing the money a secondary or less important function of fundraising.

I have thought a lot about this over my 40+ years in fundraising. And these thoughts have been formed by a serious study of why people give and the origins of charitable giving or philanthropy.

The whole idea of philanthropy has been around for 4500 years.
  • In 2500 BCE, the ancient Hebrews used a mandatory tax, or “tithe,” to benefit the poor.
  • In 387 BCE, Plato’s Academy, a group working for the public good on a voluntary basis, was established. Someone, way back then, was thinking about giving back.
  • In 28 BCE, the first Roman emperor, Augustus, gave public aid to an estimated 200,000 people in an effort to demonstrate care and concern for those less fortunate.
  • In 1601, Parliament enacted the Charitable Uses Act in order to identify what purposes can be defined as charitable.
  • In 1643, Harvard University organized the first American fundraising drive.
  • In 1727, The Sisters of Charity provided social assistance to the needy in Latin America.
  • In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville published “Democracy in America,” which highlights the philanthropic spirit of Americans.

And it goes on and on – the spirit and actions of charitable giving have been part of society worldwide for thousands of years. But why do we have this urge to give? Because it’s part of our wiring – our DNA – as human beings. We have a strong drive to survive and be self-sufficient. AND, we have a strong drive to give and take care of the planet, its living creatures, its forests, oceans and climates, its systems, and structures – everything that embodies and supports life and the environment – everything that is.

But here’s the thing. That drive (or what Jeff and our team call “passions and interests”) differs from person to person. You might be interested in the protection of animals. Another person may care more about children’s issues. And that is the beauty of philanthropy. It organizes people into their interests and passions to address a societal need.

Which brings me to the purpose of philanthropy and charitable giving: to help people fulfill their passions and interests – those inner drives to do good on the planet.

All these realities then logically lead us to conclude that the function of fundraising is more than securing funds for program. It is also about helping donors fulfill their interests and passions.

So, there is a dual purpose of fundraising:

  1. To secure funds for program.
  2. To help donors fulfill their passions and interests.

One of these is not more important than the other – they are equal. And, if you emphasize one over the other, the one NOT emphasized or taken care of will suffer. If all you do is secure funds from donors for program – in other words, if that is your only interest and where you focus all your energy – you will abuse the donor and they will leave you. If all you do is take care of fulfilling the passions and interests of your donor, you will not be as focused as you should be on securing the needed revenue.

There must be a balance between the two. Which is why we take the position that every donor on your file, except for the newly acquired donor, needs to contribute net revenue to your cause. If they don’t contribute net revenue, the donor will be an expense, taking financial resources away from program. And that is not an acceptable financial situation.

As you are doing your fundraising this year, pay very close attention to these two fundraising objectives and manage them in a balanced way. You will have happier and more fulfilled donors who will stay with you, and you will secure the net revenue you need.


PS – If you’d like to learn more about Discovering Your Donor’s Passions & Interests, check out this training which will give you a comprehensive understanding about how to deepen your donor relationships. Because we believe this is so important, this course is pay-what-you-can! Register and learn more here.