Chris Horst, vice president of development at HOPE International, first shared this post on his blog in 2013.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with a friend-of-a-friend who just started her first fundraising job.
Because I’ve now been in a fundraising role for years, I have meetings and calls with new fundraisers often. Sometimes they’re new fundraisers joining the HOPE International team. Other times they are joining other organizations.
Every time, it surprises me. Because I never thought I would last in a fundraising role. Even more surprising, I never thought I would truly enjoy the work. But I’ve lasted and I’ve grown in my enjoyment with each passing year.
Before I continue, I’d like to offer a word on “fundraising” as a descriptor: I don’t like the term. It fails to capture the entirety of what the job is about. And, it creates an unhealthy dichotomy between giver and receiver: I ask and you give. When done right, we both give and we both receive through the experience. But, since each nonprofit seems to pick their own descriptor (development at HOPE, advancement at many universities, catalyst at hipster agencies, etc.), I’ve chosen to use “fundraising” to keep things simple.
And if you’re in fundraising, please don’t shy away from the descriptor. When we get overly kitschy describing our work, many times people are left more confused about our jobs than they were before. When you say you “mobilize resources towards cause advancement” …what exactly do you mean? Candor goes a long way. Trust me on this one. Nobody is going to run away from you when they hear you are a fundraiser.
So, what are the must-read resources on fundraising?
1. The Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen. This is foundational material for Christians in donor relations. It sets the right tone and affirms the “heart and soul” of the job. Or at least of the job-done-well.
“Fundraising is a subject we seldom think about from a spiritual perspective. We may think of fundraising as a necessary but unpleasant activity to support spiritual things… From the perspective of the gospel, fundraising is not a response to a crisis. Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission. Vision and mission are so central to the life of God’s people that without vision we perish and without mission we lose our way.” – Henri Nouwen
2. To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. When I first heard Daniel Pink on a radio interview about this book, I knew he was onto something. His insights into the industry of sales undermined the faulty assumptions many hold and cast a hopeful way forward to think about this craft. While there are some differences between fundraising and sales, Pink does an exceptional job of building bridges between the two. Because in practice, the two are not much different. And, as he says in the book, almost all of us are in “sales” in some way or another. Entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, and fundraisers all sell, even if they wouldn’t describe it that way. The phrase he uses is “moving others.” The slick salesman caricature with an “always be closing” approach is both dated and off-putting. Pink’s robust social science research articulates the new reality for workers engaged in moving others.
“Selling in all its dimensions–whether pushing Buicks on a car lot or pitching ideas in a meeting–has changed more in the last ten years than it did over the previous hundred. Most of what we think we understand about selling is constructed atop a foundation of assumptions that has crumbled.” – Daniel Pink
3. Generous Giving, Mission Increase Foundation, and National Christian Foundation: I love the good folks at these three organizations. Generous Giving, simply, is “committed to spreading the biblical message of generosity among those entrusted with much.” They encourage and mobilize Christian givers around the world, but they are also mobilizing Christian fundraisers. They tell great stories of generosity. They host retreats and conferences celebrating generosity. And they take joy in encouraging fundraisers as well. The same is true with MIF, an organization committed to helping fundraisers raise funds well. National Christian Foundation is also a great resource for fundraisers. With chapters across the country–and the third-largest donor-advised fund in the world–NCF should be a trusted partner to all fundraisers. They are equal parts encouraging and practical, equipping fundraisers and givers with the tools to live more generously and intentionally.
There are other books I like on the subject. Revolution in Generosity is a great textbook I use often. Made to Stick is my favorite marketing book (with fundraising implications). But I’m sure I’ve missed a number of great resources.
If you’re in this line of work: What resource can you not live without?
Are you in a role that includes fundraising? Join the conversation on the “Vocation of Fundraising” at our October 12 event, where we will look at the opportunity for fundraisers to foster relationships, inspire generosity, and create good in our communities.
Chris Horst is the chief advancement officer at HOPE International, an international microfinance organization that helps people escape poverty. His development staff raise $16 million annually to support HOPE’s mission. He loves to write, having been published in The Denver Post and Christianity Today and co-authored Mission Drift, Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing, and Rooting for Rivals with Peter Greer. In addition to his role at HOPE, he serves on the board of the Mile High WorkShop.