Why Fundraising is a Mystical Experience

23 years ago, I started my first job in fundraising.  I worked for a small non-profit in Philadelphia on the 3rd floor of a dilapidated building.  We were so small, not only did I write the appeal letters, I also folded them, put them in envelopes, licked the stamps and took them down to the post office.

I got really good at stuffing envelopes…like scary good.

The one part of that job that I really miss today was opening the return envelopes.  Yep, I was also the one-person caging operation.  The reason I miss that task is that I was able to see and touch a tangible expression of a donor’s gratitude.

Gratitude?  Yes, gratitude.

I remember opening the mail and reading the little comments from donors on the reply device about how happy they were to help.  I remember looking at the scribbly handwriting on a $5 check that was surely from an old woman who wrote in the memo section, “So happy I could give this to you…”

I remember thinking how long it must have taken her to write that check.

At 23 I don’t think I totally grasped the wondrously mystical moment that really was.  However, as I’ve grown older and reflect back on all this, it is precisely where I learned that fundraising isn’t really about the money at all.  It’s really about an exchange of labor and values.

And, it’s about love.

What?  Why are you getting all mushy about this, Jeff?

Well, think about it.  When donors decide to hand you a check for your organization, what are they really doing?  They are handing you their hard- earned labor in exchange for the opportunity to make the world a better place.

Yes, their labor.  The same labor that puts food on their table, pays their mortgage and helps their children through college…they have decided to give YOU some of that.

Whether that is helping to feed a starving child in Somalia, saving an animal from the streets or building a new wing of a hospital, donors are handing over a part of themselves and trusting that you will steward it for good.

I really believe that at that moment there is something mystical happening in the transaction.  And I don’t want you to overlook that.

I know there is a lot of pressure on you to view fundraising as just “getting the money.”  It comes from all sides.  Your boss is pushing you, your colleagues are passing you with their monthly goals; there’s pressure from the board.  It would be easy to just go after the money.

It’s at these moments  that you need to pause and reflect.  You have a relationship with these donors.  They believe in your mission.  You have a responsibility to take good care.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Mission, Non-Profits, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why Fundraising is a Mystical Experience

  1. Jeff, I so agree. I have a file of notes written on response pieces or note paper, telling some story about why this person gave, what touched them, how happy they are to give, etc. In my last role I was always eager when the mail came, anticipating a really special occasion as we opened the responses. These are friends, not money machines.

  2. Olivia Mayer says:

    So true. I received an email from a sponsor this morning interested in supporting an upcoming event. When I emailed to thank her, she reminded me again, how it isn’t about the money, with her simple “it is our pleasure to support you.”

  3. The industry standard is, as you say, 150 per major gift officer. The big shops (universities, hospitals, big charities, etc.) hold to that number and the CRM software is deployed to accommodate the “moves management,” “touches” and all the rest. I just had a casual opportunity to ask my small town family doctor how many patients he sees at least several times a year — 3,000. Many of these have chronic problems, so he’s busy. He cares about keeping his people alive. We care about keeping our people inspired. Somehow, today at least, 150 seems underwhelming.

    This question/observation does not fit your post today, but thought to ask anyway.

    Thanks. Jim

    • Jim, thanks for writing. I appreciate that you took the time. I really think we’re talking apples and oranges here. An MGO is being proactive and fostering a relationship. There is a reason its an industry standard and that is because it’s very difficult to cultivate relationships with 150 people on a full time basis, putting proposals in front of them, meeting with them, etc. A doctors takes appointments from people who need to see him or her. 15-20min and you are out of there. If you ever had to cultivate 150 major donors you would quickly understand what a tough job that is.

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