Strategy & Marketing

The Main Thing You Need to Know About Fundraising

So many churches, ministries, and nonprofits struggle with fundraising these days, and there’s no question that in today’s culture, there are many challenges with raising money. So I asked Tim Smith (who’s been involved in donor development for a long time, and today is the Chief Development Officer of The Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.) what he considers the “main thing” when it comes to fundraising. Here’s his reply:

Every day I get a ‘transaction report” on how my fundraising efforts are doing here at the Museum of the Bible. It is easy to think about the gift as the end-product of your fundraising. But the gift is only a byproduct. The end-product of your work with donors – is the donor – a friend who is growing in Christ, thriving spiritually, and joyfully committed to being used by God in the mission of your ministry organization. In fact, this “end-product” is actually an ongoing product.

Down through the years, as I have lived and taught this approach to major donor fundraising, some of my colleagues in ministry have recoiled. It’s too “pastoral,” they feel, not “systematic” enough. The fact is, I am a very systematic person. I like to make a plan, work the plan, evaluate the plan. But my plans and systems for extracting gifts from major donors did more to wear me down than to build up the work we were doing — and they certainly did nothing for the donors themselves.. But at the heart of this system is a truth that took me years to understand:

It is never about the donation; it is always about the donor.

A few years ago, I met a potential major funder in his office. A good friend had connected us. This fellow was quite a character, one of those guys who can leave an impression on you for a lifetime. His net worth was well known, and he had been the target of many organizations. He also had a reputation for “telling it like it is,” not holding back on his thoughts about you or your organization.
As in most meetings, he began by presenting his business card, and I presented mine. He examined my card closely.

“Timothy Smith, Chief Development Officer,” he read aloud. Then he abruptly flipped it right at my face. “Chief Development Officer,” he snickered. “Guys like you have been chasing guys like me all my life.”

There are moments when you have to consider the risk and opportunity right in front of you. This was one of those times. I picked up my card and flipped it right back at him: “What makes you think I’m like every other development guy that’s been chasing you your entire life?” I asked. It became awkwardly quiet for a moment. Then he leaned back in his chair, laughing and clapping his hands.

“You’re going to be a problem for me, aren’t you?” he chuckled.

“I certainly hope so!” I responded.

We became fast friends and have been running on this journey together ever since.

People will push back. Some won’t be nice about it. But this is an abiding reality that we simply have to press through. Either you buy it or you don’t!

Stop viewing donors through a lens of transactions but rather through a lens of transformation.  Donors aren’t ATM machines… they are real people in need of authentic relationship from the projects they fund.  The one big thing is “keep your fundraising donor centric.”


You can follow Tim Smith on his blog, and on Twitter for unique perspectives on nonprofit development and his work with Museum of the Bible.

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  1. Great post, Tim. I accidentally became a Major Gift Officer in Pittsburgh a few years back. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, but after a few years, I can say that you are right on! Thanks for sharing!

  2. When you focus on the donor, then generosity is a discipleship and mission conversation, not a “cultivation” and “ask” conversation. Very important.

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