Book Post #3: Fundraising 101

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Anne Farrell who is the Vice President of Philanthropy for Voices for Children during the day and professor for the fundraising class through the University of San Diego’s nonprofit masters program in the evening. I interviewed her about her fundraising course, Resource Development and Fundraising.

“I am not a big believer that fundraising is something you learn out of a book, it is something you learn by doing and by watching others do both well… and badly.  You can learn from both.”

Fundraising courses within the nonprofit masters graduate program provide a general understanding of the sector, but more importantly these classes teach by doing. Students engage in hands-on projects like fundraising assessments for community nonprofits, writing letters of intent and creating nonprofit fundraising media spots.  Final projects often include writing a grant, organization case statement or fundraising plan.

“These projects are much better than reading a text book and learning theoretical fundraising.

I teach experience not academia.”

The students in the class have different levels of fundraising skills and backgrounds.  Farrell estimates that about:

  • One third of the class has no fundraising experience and are a bit skeptical and/or scared of fundraising
  • One third of the class has some fundraising experience
  • One third of the class are in positions were they need fundraising skills and are really looking for the education

To the delight of students, Anne brings in special guest speakers who are local philanthropists, corporate giving officers or private foundation officers in order to have an unvarnished conversation about fundraising.  Donors explain how and why they give and what they are looking for in a nonprofit.  As fundraisers, we know how valuable this information is because it is so hard to acquire.  These one-on-one discussions provide students with an invaluable perspective on how to work with donors.

Anne dedicates a session to technology and its influence on fundraising. When I asked Anne how technology has changed the fundraising sector, she responded that in some ways it has changed a lot. Technology is a big part of fundraising.  Although most people think of social media when they think of the latest technology in fundraising, Farrell feels that it is a minor part.  It is each fundraiser’s comfort level with technology and concept behind technology as opposed with the specific applications.

“People my age (baby boomer generation) are still using Rolodexes.

Technology is still a generational thing.”

It is important for fundraisers to be comfortable with all levels of technology in fundraising. Although fundraising has radically changed with technology, the underlying strategies have not changed.  Building relationships does not necessarily require technology and an in-person meeting is always going to be more valuable in a donor’s eyes than an email or phone call.

Anne dedicates one class session to the Internet and how this impacts a nonprofit’s ability to fundraise. The web has really changed fundraising.  Since so many people conduct their financial transactions online, it has made giving online more popular.  Anne advises nonprofits to make donating online as easy as possible and functional on their website. And we know that the younger donors like to engage in fundraising online. While she does not have a specific session on engaging the younger generations (although I did volunteer to come speak about it!), she discusses it within the different areas of fundraising like fundraising from individual donors.

When Anne started in fundraising, she was using a typewriter and white out. Now she teaches a session in her class about Raiser’s Edge and other relational databases that have dramatically changed the way nonprofits maintain and update donor records. While technology has made a lot of things easier and it has made mistakes easier to make as well.  Mail merging has made direct mails much easier and more personal.  However, it fails the nonprofit dramatically when a letter is addressed to the wrong person.  Also, the shot gun approach to grant proposals of cut and pasting one proposal for another foundation has occurred with the use of computers. The technology liability occurs when the foundation name from the original proposal is not updated to the new foundation name. If you had to retype the grant on a typewriter, you would not have missed the foundation name change.

The best value of Anne’s fundraising course is that it is a very useful and practical component of the USD nonprofit masters program because it is one of the most hands-on classes in the program.

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