From the Myth Smash­ers: is fundrais­ing all about the money?

Fundrais­ing has to be about the mis­sion’. In her pre­sen­ta­tion to the Myth Smash­ers in Aus­tralia, fundrais­er Claire Hugh­es chal­lenged the myth that fundrais­ing should always be about mon­ey. Here is her pow­er­ful rebuke to that falsity.

Written by
Claire Hughes
December 12, 2019

I’ve heard it countless times – that fundraising is ‘just about money’.

From my board: ‘Just get me more money!’

My boss: ‘What’s your strategy to make more money?’

My colleagues: ‘Are you going to that fundraising conference so you know how to make more money?’

And even my friends: ‘Fundraising? Isn’t that just begging people for money?’ My wee Scottish granny back home still thinks I just sell tea towels for a living. 

**Shudder** I’m seriously fed up of being made to feel like I’m about to rob a bank! A charity mugger! Diminished to just selling tea towels! And worst of all? It’s a big fat lie! A big old myth!  

Fundraising is NOT about the money. It’s not even about our donors (controversial I know), and it CERTAINLY is not about us fundraisers. If your board, staff or even you think this is the case, then not only do we have a myth – we have a problem.

With this mind set, an organisation will fail. You as a fundraiser will fail. We’ll concentrate on asking for what we want and not what the donor wants – treating them like an ATM.

Worse still, when we concentrate on money, so do members of the public and media outlets. They begin to scrutinising more and more about costs and admin fees when we all know that this should not be the focus.

How many tabloid articles or 60 minute stories have you seen about the impact of a charity? Compare that with the amount they focus on how charities raise and spend their money. We know that we’re better than that. 

With a monetary focus we forget about why our organisation, our purpose exists. Our mission.

For all of us, fundraising HAS to be about the mission. In working for your organisation YOU have agreed to a mission. This is what you fight for every day. Without mission, there is no fundraising, there is no donor and for sure, there is no money.

I stumbled across this extremely dramatic news article recently:

This bold headline led to a story about a man who had sadly lost his father to suicide. He had decided to take part in his own fundraising for a mental health charity, not telling them of his activity.

With all the very best intentions, he fundraised by filming his own intimacies with his partner and uploading these videos to a website. People paid to download the videos and he ended up raising over $5,000.

When the gent went to donate to the charity, they made the extremely difficult decision to decline the donation as the fundraising activity did not suit or align with their organisation.

Now please don’t get me wrong – in this example, my opinion is that no one is in the wrong and that the charity should be proud of their decision.   

Why? Because in achieving our mission, we as non-profit organisations must have strong values and ethics in everything we do. And yes, this often means that we have to reject money if it has been raised in a means that does not suit our organisations.  

In your organisation, why not pose the question – what are your values and ethics?

  • If you work at a cancer charity, would you accept funds from a tobacco company?
  • If you work for an environmental charity, would you accept funds from a coal mining business?
  • If you work for a domestic violence charity, would you accept funds from an adult store or brothel?
  • If fundraising is just about money, why do charities often reject money? 

When a monetary focus goes wrong…

At Legacy, we’ve got a fantastic team but in the past, we’ve got it wrong. Oh so wrong.

We support the families of our Defence Force personnel who have been injured or killed due to their service and in 2017, we launched our annual Defence Charity Ball in Brisbane.

Tickets started selling at an unprecedented rate. We had a fantastic entertainment lined up. We had aerial dancers hanging out of the ceilings. We had the perfect three course dinner selected, the premium drinks package plus more.  

With the most amount of tickets sold EVER, we had over 1,000 people coming. We upgraded our disgustingly expensive Convention Centre Hall, upgraded AV and everything. Costs began to rise, but it was okay because we HAD THE MOST AMOUNT OF PEOPLE COMING EVER!

And what's more? We had a customised VIP breakout area! WOW! Plus, could you believe it, we had an auction company that gave us so many prizes (ahem, on consignment).

The night rolled in, we were all squished in that room like sardines. The aerial gals did their weird hanging out of the ceiling thing. It was going fantastic, because YES – we had the most amount of people coming EVER!

Then came the fundraising.

And guess what?

It absolutely bombed. I mean it seriously bombed. It was a complete disaster.   

Why? Because we forgot our ‘why’.

Our mission.

The purpose of the ball was to help us achieve our mission. And we didn’t. We focused on the quick wins, the ticket sales, the entertainment. We forgot our mission because we got caught up in the glitz and glam. Not the cause and purpose.

We forgot the 65,000 widows and widowers across Australia that we exist to support. We forgot the 1,800 children and adults with disabilities who have lost their service mum or dad. 

We forgot the promise that we made to people like Rebecca and her children Will and Ella. Rebecca was widowed at just 31 years old, when her Defence Force husband Pete passed away from a service-related illness. Will lost his father when he was just four years old and Ella, only seven months, has grown up not even remembering her father.

Knowing that we had let families like Rebecca’s down meant we had completely hit rock bottom.

In 2018, our team basically scraped ourselves off the floor. We re-strategised and concentrated on getting the right people in the room. We cut all paid entertainment and all unnecessary costs.  

In the lead up, we send out communications about impact. Our cause. The difference the guests could be making on the night.

At the event, we shouted from the rooftops about what we were trying to achieve.

And guess what? Our amazing guests and our team knocked fundraising out of the park, netting 200 times more than the previous year’s income.

How? We stopped thinking about the quick wins and easy money.

A monetary focus in fundraising is an extremely dangerous game. But I have hope.

I know that when you write your direct mail letters you’re not just writing to ask for money.  You’re telling stories of how worthy your cause is and showing the impact your donors can have. People don’t give to you just because you asked them to. They give because of your mission.

I know that when you go to meet a major donor, you’re not just having cups of tea and asking for $100,000. Of course you’re not – you’re asking them to make change for their chosen purpose. 

As fundraisers, we share our mission in order to match people with their philanthropic desires, allowing them to change the world. You empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things. 

So today, I ask you, the next time your board, boss or colleagues even mention the notion of ‘getting more money’– I want you to tell them your stories. Stories like a charities money rejection. Stories of events that have failed like our Defence Charity Ball. Stories like Rebecca’s.

I want you to tell them until you’re blue in the face that fundraising is not, and will never be about money. 

Together as fundraisers, let’s make a pledge and promise that we may take your donations but we’ll never forget our MISSION.

About the author: Claire Hughes

With over seven years’ experience working in the NFP sector in both the UK and Australia, Claire specialises in peer to peer campaigns, signature events, community partnerships and relationship fundraising. 

Through her work, Claire is committed and passionate about using her expertise to drive income generation, supporting her chosen causes in achieving their mission. 

In her current role at Legacy Brisbane, Claire established and implemented a strategic community fundraising portfolio in order to increase sustainable revenue through campaigns, programmes and events, as well as identifying new partnership opportunities. 

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