Break the Rules: When Fundraising Best Practices Aren't and What to Do Instead

Published on Nov 18, 2015

There are many “givens” in fundraising that are based on “best practice.” Best practices are called that for a reason, right? In your day-to-day life, however, it often depends. Why do we do what we do? By examining the fundamental goals of what have been best practice, you can choose what to do, what not to do, and what to make better for your specific fundraising goals.


Break the Rules

When Best Practices Aren't and What to Do Instead



That'll Never Work Here sometimes true


  • Things that "don't work"
  • The core goal
  • Evolution of our practice

What is "best practice"?

From Business Dictionary:

A method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark.

Photo by ellajphillips

A few examples

"Your board must be involved in asking for money"

In reality...

  • Many put it off
  • Some ask for too little
  • Some are just not good


  • Be a connector
  • Complete discrete tasks that are within their skill set and comfort (at first)

"You must ask for big gifts in person, peer to peer."

In reality...

  • Sometimes the donor doesn't like that
  • Sometimes a staff person has a better connection


  • Communicate the way the donor wants
  • Examine the relationships and assign the best person

"People first support with small gifts and move up"

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In reality...

  • Donors enter at high levels sometimes
  • Non-cash support is usually first gift

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  • Think about offering many ways to enter
  • Perhaps, it's about engagement rather than money

"Volunteers must be involved in fundraising"

In reality...

  • Many are not well trained, productive or motivated
  • Personal agenda?
  • Will they do what they say?


  • Small corps of effective volunteers are better
  • Must be well managed
  • ...or may not need them

Magic Formula

There's no one size fit all

Challenging Practices

  • What's the ultimate goal?
  • Who's the target audience?
  • What rocks their boat(s)?
  • Can I make this work, or should I let it go?

In the case of volunteers

  • Goal: connect with prospects and build relationships quickly
  • Audiences: the volunteers and their friends
  • Want social impact, no "loss of status," maybe "payback"
  • If you want to accomplish something different, use different tactics


and revolution?

Factors affecting "best practice"

  • Donor sophistication
  • Expectation of customized experience
  • Higher engagement
  • No boundaries
  • Changing nature of relationships

What won't change

  • It's about the relationships
  • Importance of human interaction, platform agnostic
  • Someone still needs to ask

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