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Weird, Wacky, and Off-the-Mark Fundraising Advice

By Ashley Gatewood posted 04-13-2022 13:16


When you’re a fundraising professional, there’s no shortage of weird, wacky, and off-the-mark advice on how to perform your job. Here, several CFREs share with us some of the not-so-great fundraising advice they’ve received during their careers.

Need to vent about questionable advice that has come your way? Tell us in the comments.

Dane Bland, CFRE
Toronto, ON
The worst fundraising advice I think I've heard - and I hear it often! - is trying to decide FOR your donors when and how they'd like to give. As fundraisers, let's give our supporters the opportunity to choose how they want to be engaged... let's not choose for them!

Clare Bridle, CFRE
New Zealand
It's hard to pinpoint a specific piece of advice but there are definitely some recurring themes or myths. Firstly, “They are rich or famous (or both) so they should give to our cause.”

I've heard this so many times, where the prospect identified has absolutely no connection to the cause and probably no interest.

I also worked with a finance director early in my career who would regularly suggest that we needed to print t-shirts so everyone would know who we were and would donate to us! Both of these examples have the same underlying problem—fundraising is about relationships and there is so much more to it than scanning the rich list or printing merchandise!

Heather Hill, CNM, CFRE
New York, NY
United States
I’ve heard quite a range of fundraising advice over the years. The compiled counsel could easily be referred to as “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly”…but I understand that title is already taken.

Here’s a brief sampling of bad:

  • “Why don’t you ask [insert name of famous wealthy person or celebrity who has no connection to the organization nor anyone associated with it]?”
  • “You should collect recipes from the staff and publish a cookbook, then sell it and the proceeds will go to our charity.” (Note: Our charity had nothing to do with food, cooking, or nutrition)
  • “Don’t ask volunteers to make a gift. They’re already giving their time.”
  • “Take the major donors off our mailing list. They don’t want to be bothered.”
  • “Don’t make appeal letters emotional.”

And here’s one from the ugly:
“Grab onto that prospect and don’t let go until you get the money.”

Cherian Koshy, CFRE
Des Moines, IA
United States
The worst piece of advice I've ever received is: "Why don't we try what this other organization did."

Whether it's a CEO, a board member, or even a colleague, this copycat mentality is prevalent and ignores the fact that we don't have any of the information about how or why that organization did what they did. It's a phenomenon Annie Duke calls resulting, which is the tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome.

Without more information and understanding your nonprofit's unique DNA, this is a highly risky way of operating and often leads to blaming the fundraiser for failure to implement when the problem was actually a misplaced idea in the first place.

Elizabeth Lamberti, CFRE
“In this culture, you cannot ask people for money.” That’s what I heard when I first moved to Europe as a frontline gift officer. If I had heeded this advice, our major gifts program never would have blossomed into the rich, multi-cultural program it is today. I learned to adjust my fundraising style to the language and traditions of each donor. Philanthropy is universal but your approach must be local.

Lee Christian, CFRE
Sydney, NSW
ONLY take advice from those who are experts in fundraising:

Don't listen to anyone whose credentials you doubt. Don't list to anyone who hasn't got runs on the board in that specific area of fundraising. Whether it is an event, an appeal, a major giving campaign, whatever it is, only take advice from known experts or those with a wealth of experience. Only take advice if you are SURE they know their stuff.

I have received unsolicited advice from board members who by their own admission don't know a THING about fundraising! I have listened and quietly thought to myself ...well that's nice of them to offer input...but that's goes against just about everything I know to be best practise fundraising.

I have received advice from senior managers, whose opinion I usually respect, but have thought better of it. The only reason I even contemplated taking their advice was because they were my senior. But they didn't know much about the thing I was planning to do.

ONLY seek (and take) advice from those who have actually DONE that thing you are planning to do! Take advice from KNOWN experts! SEEK advice from those that have been there and done that.
Fundraising is NOT like a normal marketing campaign.
Fundraising is NOT like a normal sales pitch.
Fundraising relationships are NOT like any other relationships.
Fundraising is nuanced.
Fundraisers know this.



06-19-2022 21:10

Cookbooks!  That comment sent a chill down my spine - but I'll still get board members mention that one. I hate to admit it but I actually have a small cook book collection - and some of the best ones from the 1950's are probably from fundraising efforts.....

04-21-2022 17:42

@Douglas Hartjes, I laughed out loud at your comment.  "All new gifts" is the kicker.

Here's mine:  After I asked a board member to set a high bar for giving to our campaign, he came in the next day, eager to share his news, "Robin, I just found out I can give my money instead to a donor advised fund and it'll grow.  Isn't that great?"

04-21-2022 10:51

I had a board member tell me that they thought we should do a $40M capital campaign (that figure was derived out of thin air and no identified case for support). AND (you'll love this): "We aren't going to ask our donors for the gifts." It will be all new money.

04-21-2022 10:25

My CEO in a previous position thought I should be tweeting regularly about the innovative things our LOCAL organization was doing (we weren't doing anything innovative) because someone out in the twitterverse would be inspired to give us a big gift. The same CEO wanted me to come up with a viral video that would raise millions of dollars. Yah, no.

04-21-2022 09:38

I had a board chair insist that our next fundraising initiative would be for debt reduction. His advice was to determine a gift level for every facility and room on campus that wasn’t already named, and publish the list. “It’s just like selling groceries,” he advised. “If it’s priced right, people will buy anything.”