The truth about myths… and the myth about truths

This fall, I and my Getting to Giving colleagues were invited to put on a seminar about fundraising for Harvard Business School alumni. We began developing what we hoped would be an inspiring and value-added daylong seminar for people who were very involved in philanthropy, in one capacity or another. The response to the seminar invitation was encouraging, and some alumni brought along directors of nonprofit organizations they supported.

We decided that a session on fundraising myths could be informative and interesting. In a pre-seminar survey of participants, we asked them about myths and truths that they had been taught and/or experienced. Interesting result: many things appeared on both lists! One example: “Fundraising is fun.” Another example: “Fundraising is easy.”

We brainstormed our own list of myths and truths. We too discovered some ambiguity. Much depended on the situation.  What was most important for fundraising leaders was to know what questions to ask themselves about each dimension of their efforts: getting started, first encounter with a prospect, courtship, the ask, and stewardship. The conclusion: Yup, not as clear cut as one might think, just as our seminar participants had signaled.

The result is presented below as a handy table. It offers assessment of myths and truths and – most importantly – the questions to ask yourself at each step of the fundraising process.

Some of these myths have been and will be elaborated on in other blogs. No surprise that you will to see an “on the other hand” or two there.

What is your experience with “myths” and “truths?”




Critical Questions

Getting Started

Everyone’s a prospect

Not everyone’s a prospect

How do you identify your prospects?


It’s all about the money

It’s about time, talent, networks… and money

What do you want/need from them?


It’s all about the pyramid

It’s all about the fundraising strategy

What fundraising strategy is right for you?


Volunteers are selfless

Volunteers have wants/needs too

What motivates your volunteers?


Onward, Lone Ranger!

It takes a village

What support do you get (or need)?


I can’t do it!

You can do it!!!

Do you like fundraising? Are you good at it?

First encounter

Cold calls work fine

Preparation is key

Can you be effective going in cold?


Give them a document/your pitch

Socratic selling works best

How do you approach the first meeting?


It has to be a friend

Have to go beyond “the usual suspects”

Is it easier to approach a friend or a stranger?


Be yourself

Find your comfort zone but also “read” the prospect

Is it easy to “be yourself” when approaching someone?


They will expect reciprocity

They may… or may not

Is fundraising a “quid pro quo” thing?


It’s all about the money

It’s about mission, money and message

Will you take any gift? What’s your elevator pitch?


It’s all about the relationship

It’s fundraising, not friend raising

How important is your relationship with the prospect?


All donors want recognition

Donors have different motivations

What motivates your donors?


You have to be number one on their list

Find your place in their priorities

How important do you expect your cause to be for the prospect?


There’s one decision maker

 There are lots of influencers

How important are the people around the prospect?


People don’t really want to give

Most people want to give, but may not know how

Do most people want and know how to give?

The ask

It’s one decisive moment

It builds over time, and may take more than one try

How do you define “the ask?”


Everyone wants a number

Explain what you need; let them, decide

Is it better to be general or specific about the number?


Donors want top leadership attention

Sometimes, but not always

Who is the best person to make the ask?


I can’t ask for more than I give

It’s important to give something, to show commitment

Do prospects have expectations about your giving level?


It’s over when they say “yes”

Gift agreements are important

Are you involved in setting the terms of gift agreements?


They give, they’re gone

It’s a long term relationship

What kind of ongoing contact do you have with donors?


They say no, they’re gone

Sometimes “no” means “not now”

Do you stay in touch with people who decline to give?

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