A word that means to raise funds. Sounds simple enough, right?
As many of you are probably aware, it’s not. As Dr. Gene Tempel, dean emeritus of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and president emeritus of IU Foundation, said, “fundraising is the difficult art of engagement.” It’s time-intensive, not easy, and often misunderstood by the general population.
How can you make sense of this “difficult art of engagement,” and also think of it as legendary fundraiser and founder of The Fund Raising School Hank Rosso defined it: “the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”
For one, you can take courses at The Fund Raising School. To gain a comprehensive view of fundraising, I’d suggest first working on your Certificate in Fund Raising Management (CFRM), a four-course certificate designed to give any new or experienced fundraiser a grounding in fundraising and philanthropy research, as well as in-depth information about fundraising.
In this post, I’ll take you “behind-the-scenes,” sharing insights you can use in your own fundraising work while also illustrating the benefit of this certificate program (which can be completed fully online now!)
Start with the first course, the one that started it all. This course gives an in-depth, intensive look into all types of fundraising. To be honest, I actually took this course as an academic course during a full semester, as it was required for my master’s degree. However, if you take it solely with The Fund Raising School, you’ll spend four days in-person (post-COVID-19), or eight weeks online, learning about the ins and outs of fundraising.
The academic course had us dive into the work of a local nonprofit of our choice. I met with the development director and entered into assignments that included working through the fundraising cycle, developing and strengthening a case statement, discussing a budget and current funding model, developing a gift range chart (the most challenging part of the semester but also the most rewarding once it was figured out!), and drafting a letter of inquiry.
You’ll learn and do all of this in the non-academic course, but your benefit over mine? You can use your own organization as your case study!
After the first fundamental course, your course path is really up to you. I chose to design mine based on building from the fundraising pyramid up, so my second course was about the annual fund.
I took this course in-person, so it was a jammed-pack two days (which would be four weeks online). We learned all about annual fund components: physical mailings, events, digital fundraising, etc. We discussed the constituents of an annual fund and data-driven decision-making (e.g. what’s your return on investment for an event compared to a newsletter compared to social media).
One of my favorite parts of this course was analyzing real appeal letters with the other course participants. We discussed what stood out to us in the letters we liked, and how those various messages would sound to a donor or potential donor.
The next step up the fundraising pyramid: major gifts. I took this course in-person for three days (it’s six weeks online), but again, it was a full three days. We talked about organizational readiness, the fundraising cycle, the extreme importance (this is emphasized in all classes, btw) of identification, qualification, cultivation, and stewardship, and meeting the donor where she or he is.
Two important points really stood out to me about this course. One was the DiSC personality assessment. Maybe you’ve already done this, but I would highly recommend taking this “test.” It helped me not only understand myself better, but it also assisted me in working with potential donors. If you’re working with a major gift prospect, knowing or having an idea of their DiSC personality and being able to tailor your solicitation not only to their personal interests and dreams, but also to how they like to see information presented, is crucial.
The other exercise I really enjoyed was the solicitation exercise. Now, I’m sure many of you are well-versed at making an ask. I personally am not. While this practice with classmates did not include the many elements of major gift fundraising (e.g. building the relationship ahead of time), using the DiSC assessment helped my partner and me craft an appropriate and tailored ask. Receiving feedback after was also critical. Practice makes perfect, and so I think the experience could be helpful whether you’ve made a hundred asks or one.
I had planned to take this in-person (I really like the interaction between classmates), but then COVID-19 happened and The Fund Raising School shifted all of its courses online for the time being.
However, I found this third different way of taking a course helpful in its own way. You miss the in-person interaction, but you get to communicate back and forth with classmates in discussion sessions. You do have readings, quizzes, assignments, and discussions when you take the course online and have to weave it into your daily schedule (rather than solely focusing on a course for a few days), but with understanding planned giving, I found having more time to digest the material quite helpful.
It’s complicated stuff. You’re learning about gifts that can benefit your organization now, gifts that can help later, and gifts that pay income to the donors or loved ones. We dove into material about marketing and managing a comprehensive planned gift program.
I discovered though, that there are so many ways to connect with donors and help them fulfill their charitable and personal desires. Do they want to donate a specified income amount to charity now and then after they pass, have the trust revert to their heirs? Talk to them about a charitable lead trust. Do they have a life insurance policy that they don’t have use for anymore? They can make the charity a beneficiary, or a beneficiary and owner of that policy. They can even donate property like a house that they’re living in and want to stay in, but then goes to the charity after the donors pass (life estate).
Simply put, donors can leave a bequest. It’s simple language that can be included in their will bequest, and since there’s a large transfer of wealth that will occur very soon, it’s important to have.
So there you go. Four courses to increase your knowledge of fundraising. You can also take Managing the Capital Campaign, instead of one of the three I did (Annual Sustainability, Major Gifts, Planned Giving). Whether you’re a new fundraiser or experienced one, these courses and the many others offered by The Fund Raising School will help base your fundraising in thorough research moving forward.
Abby Rolland has her master’s degree in philanthropic studies and her Certificate in Fund Raising Management. She currently serves as a fellow at The Patterson Foundation.