The Research Swamp

on in Fundraising

I was at a meeting yesterday with some board members who’d committed to getting started in fundraising. They wanted to hire Cause Effective to help them develop a fundraising plan and coach them through their first steps. And then the big “R” question came up – will you do research for us?

Well sure we’ll do research – but that’s so far down the line at this point, that the question itself is a red herring…an avoidance mechanism. It’s like in baseball when someone breaks out to steal second in order to hide the fact that someone’s about to try to steal home. (You can tell it’s far along in the Little League season). It takes your eyes off the prize.

The major problem in community-based fundraising is not lack of prospects, or lack of knowledge about a prospect’s financial resources – it’s making the wrong choices about how to spend one’s time (staff time, board time, volunteer/advocate time) given the potential wealth of assets just one or two steps away.

In other words, you know what you need to know to start cultivating someone – and you’ll figure out what the right-sized gift is to ask for – when you feel out their enthusiasm for your cause and the extent to which you can raise up their sense of “ownership” over a particular project.

It’s not about the cash – it’s about the love. And ya can’t look up love.

But you can build it – with the prospect’s willing cooperation.

So better to spend time developing a relationship, then finding out the 411 on every last one of their assets.

Now of course I’m oversimplifying here and we should use everything at our disposal to understand where a prospect’s coming from, so we can appropriately match what our agency has to offer with what best meets their “leap-over-tall-buildings-for” test…

But, really, sitting behind a computer and doing research is a cipher. It’s the hand-to-hand combat that matters.



Originally published June 14th, 2010

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