Funny Suggestions from Non-Fundraisers to Nonprofit Fundraisers


By Jeremy Reis

Sometimes well intentioned, sometimes demeaning, non-fundraisers often provide unsolicited advice on how we can better raise funds. Often starting with the ubiquitous “Have you thought about…” or “Why don’t you just…”, the statements are followed by head scratching words that prove everyone thinks fundraising is easy because they simply don’t understand the complexities of asking for money.

Here are a few of my favorites. Add your own in the comments.

“Have you thought about calling the Gates Foundation?” 

You can insert just about any foundation name in here. Yes, we’ve thought about it. No, it’s not that easy. I have a game I play when we’re meeting with non-fundraisers discussing fundraising. It’s a form a bingo and it’s played by guessing how long before someone will say, “have you thought about calling xxxx Foundation?” You insert a specific foundation or major donor name in there and the first person who’s foundation is asked about wins.

“You should find a major donor to pay for that.”

I believe some people think major donors are an atm machine. When you have a need, you insert the card and withdraw $50,000. It’s unfortunate and so far from the truth of the heart these people have for the cause.

“Ask the board. I’m sure one of them will fund it.”

At some organizations, the ATM machine is the board of directors. Non-fundraising friends: in the timeless words of my friend Timothy Smith, “donors are people too!”

“Did you see Joe Sportssuperstar just got a $300 million contract? I bet if you called him, he’d donate.”

I’ll put the Vegas odds on a donation from Joe Sportssuperstar at 1,000:1. First, you might ask if the person has Joe’s phone number as that will be the first hurdle, the second will be getting anywhere close to talking to Joe. Believe me, we’ve been working with professional athletes for three years, it’s a long road to building a relationship.

“Let’s do a golf tournament! People love golf tournaments.”

People do love golf tournaments. Because they get to play golf, not because they care about your organization or cause.

“Three words: celebrity charity auction.”

Three words: sorry, won’t work. I wonder if non-fundraisers think we have a special app that has access to celebrities, sports stars, and major donors.

“Just get a social media influencers to talk about it.”

Social media influencers are excellent at some things, driving significant donations is (by and large) not one of those things. Some are good at it because their audience aligns with your cause and the influencer has sufficient pull. Most of the time, it won’t work.

“Did you see what Charity: water is doing? Let’s copy that.”

I’d like to ban this statement from ever being said. It’s like someone in corporate America saying, “did you see what Apple is doing? Let’s do that.” There is only one Apple. There is only one Charity: water. Be you.

“If the average Joe off the street is raising $300,000 on Gofundme, why can’t you?”

Gofundme can really warp someone’s sense of what it’s like being a fundraiser at a nonprofit. Those successful crowdfunding projects are rare.

“Make something go viral.”

I laugh when people think that it’s a decision to make something go viral. I’d hate to be on any social network where organizations get to pick which posts go viral. Can you imagine? That’d be an awful experience.

“Just apply for the grant, our work is so good it speaks for itself.”

Everyone’s work is so good it speaks for itself. When everyone’s work is great, we’re on an equal playing field. It takes more than just great work to get the grant.

“You should try educating our donors. I read your appeals and they never educate. Our donors need educated, when they understand the problem, they will give.”

Lots of fundraisers have dumped cash into chasing the “educate the donor” mysterious beast. It’s a fool’s errand. Don’t educate the donor in an appeal (you’re welcome to in other channels). Tell a great story that moves someone to emotional connect and give.

“I don’t like your fundraising tactics so you need to do it my way.”

Yes! Your years of no fundraising experience and your lack of a fundraising goal will definitely motivate me to put my career in your hands. Great idea!

“Have you tried hope marketing? It’s this new things where you only tell happy stories and about our successes.”

We have tried it. You can move your messaging towards a hopeful one, but there still needs to be a story of need. There still needs to be urgency. You still need to motivate your donors to want to help someone.

“You should put all of our fundraising on Facebook Fundraisers. Everyone is using it!”

That’s a great idea if you want to lose the ability to follow up with donors and be at the whim of a platform that has proven less than stellar with its privacy record. Oh, and also if you want to lose a lot of income. All around great idea!

“A benefit concert. That’s what we need.”

They do work. But they’re incredibly hard to put together, expensive to produce, and not reproducible on a frequent basis.

“I have a buddy who has access to like two million email addresses. If you emailed them, a bunch of them would donate.”

No, no, two millions times, no. Bad idea all around. In fact, you should wish your friend luck as he is on a path to big fines and jail time.

“We should setup a campaign to raise money and if we hit our goal, the executive director has to shave his/her head!”

I bet your executive director was so glad to hear this suggestion. This worked in high school but isn’t a very good fundraising strategy.

Many times, people are just trying to be helpful, even though it comes off as demeaning and lacking any basis in understanding how difficult the job of fundraising actually is. Am I being too kind? ?

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