The sanctity of fundraising

I believe fundraising is among the noblest activities available to us poor ornery humans. Fundraising not only funds great causes, but also transforms donors. So I take fundraising seriously. I don't approach it lightly, I don't cut corners, and I will think twice (or more) about any fundraising tactic I do or ask you to do in fundraising.

Donor focus

These days, everyone says we have to be "donor centered." The fact that it has become a cliché doesn't make it any less important. The key to success is to make fundraising about donors – their values, wishes, tastes, and needs. This isn't a "Kumbaya" feel-good thing.  It's about knowing and respecting donors. The real donors we're connected with, not the fantasy donors we wish we had. It means sometimes we don't like our own fundraising. And that's okay, because we aren't the target.

The importance of knowledge

I have strong beliefs about fundraising (and lots of other things). But my knowledge (about fundraising and other things) is worth almost nothing – except when it's grounded in knowledge of what actually works. Years ago, my fundraising philosophy told me that address-label mailings were crude and awful and should never be done. Then I did some address-label mailings and found out the reality was a little more complex than I'd thought. Knowledge forces you to keep an open mind and to sometimes admit you're wrong.

No shiny objects

It's far too easy to get attention by telling people you've found a whole new thing that's going to solve all their fundraising problems and take them to new heights – and it's easy! I'm not going to make claims like that, because they simply aren't true. I have nothing against cool new things. We live in an amazing time of change, with new channels and approaches being created all the time. But the new things that make a real difference work because they hook into the ways the human mind works. New and shiny are beside the point – always. Putting to work old tactics that are covered with a billion years of primordial mud – that's how you raise a lot of funds.

Kindness and courtesy

I know we're working on extremely important stuff ... but if we can't be decent to each other, we've lost our way. I believe the way we treat each other filters into our fundraising. In the long run, mean people can't produce excellent fundraising. If I ever act like a jerk toward you, please call me out. You'll be doing me a favor, because that's not the way I want to behave!


I work best with people who don't hide what they're up to or what they really think. I want to be that way too. No hidden motives, no secret agendas. Let's be honest, open, and clear.


We aren't doing this work to amuse ourselves. But if we're not having fun while we work, then we're doing it wrong.