A Check Never Writes Itself


As a form of ministry, fundraising is as spiritual as giving a sermon,  entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick or feeding the hungry.~Henri Nouwen


All of us who are committed to non-profit work understand that funding needs to flow in order for us to be effective. My many years in non-profit have taught me that a check never writes itself . Every donation is associated with a story,  history , a community. The story flows both ways. The donor has a story as well, a critical one that needs to be shared.   More than anything, donors are motivated by their own experiences and values.  

There is no doubt that the majority of people simply believe in the value of giving itself. Some give out of an accepted moral or spiritual obligation. Others subconsciously know that it just feels good to give. Studies have been done that shows our brain actually get a “warm glow’ when you make the decision to give. Yeah baby. 

Donors will often feel an affinity for a cause for a variety reasons related to their life experiences. If someone has been diagnosed at some time in his or her life with a serious illness, or one of their close friends or family members has, they are acutely aware of the needs of patients. For example, people who have had cancer often participate in events such as the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and the Komen Race for the Cure. By donating they are able to contribute to a cause that they themselves have been affected by or honor their loved ones who were.

Many other causes attract support because of a donors past experience. Just today a friend who worked with me at the Rotary Foundation announced that because of recent flooding in  her home town their camp had to be shut down. There will be no camp next summer.

I worked in the camping field for just about 10 years,  I know what attending  summer camp means to a child  and that it is one of the formative events of most people’s  childhood. My children were born at camp ( literally) and  when they became teenagers they worked at camp as counselors. So when I heard about the devastation at the camp I was immediately emotionally stirred. I imagined it was the camp I worked at for so many years that was destroyed! While I may never set foot on this particular camp that was damaged, a donation will help them rebuild to ensure that children have the same opportunity that mine did.

People often say they donate or volunteer in order to “make a difference.”

Some people want to make an impact in the lives of an individual person. They would like to see a lasting  change as the result of their contribution– they want  to know that their donation made a significant difference. They may not even be concerned with how long this change takes, just so long as it does take place. Other people want to see an immediate impact, for example clothes given to teh homeless and other types of emergency aid like supplies sent to the folks who needed it most in right after Katrina. Still others have a long term vision for a societal change they want to see take place. Many social problems seem too large for any one person to make a difference. Making a donation gives the donor personal power over a complex issuethat is much larger than himself.  It breaks my heart to see pictures of children suffering in Pakistan. I read  the stories and immediately pulled out my credit card  to donate. I still can not handle the thought of the devastation. So I give… It’s one way that we can feel more in control of our world.

 66% of American girls hold volunteer events to raise money for social causes, and  80% volunteer their time.  Sociologist believe its a very clear way for them to feel more in control of their world. Most teenage years for young women in the US represent a time where their voices  are silenced and they may not feel as if theyare heard. Raising funds and donating to causes that they connect with  helps to give them back their personal power.

Hell yeah!

Making financial donations is also a way to take a stand on an issue. Political candidates, advocacy organizations and hot button issue groups all receive contributions from people who are voting with their dollars. Its a fantastic way of letting your voice be heard.

As non profit leaders and fundraisers, you may face many struggles in seeing your vision fulfilled. People often join an organization due to self serving interests or relational reasons and become true believers in the organization after their point of entry after that first volunteer experience or that first donation. It is crucial to nurture your new stakeholders- hear their stories, educate and empower them  and develop an authentic  relationship with them. Having a clear path to turn them  into  believers is critical for the long term health of your programs.

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