Fundraising’s Worst Oversimplification

Fundraising’s worst oversimplification is: “People give because they’re asked.”

That’s like saying those who agree to marry do so simply “because they were asked.” Yes, a proposal may produce an affirmative response but how many people get married and stay married simply because the other person asked repeatedly, relentlessly, persuasively, aggressively, or cleverly?

Does not the marriage proposal, no matter how charming or disarming, pale in comparison to the process that precedes it, the process that allows both parties to explore the potential of shared values and interests, and then conclude their future is brighter together than apart? And haven’t many couples entered into long loving relationships even when the proposal fell short of some romantic ideal?

Isn’t the same true of fundraising or, more appropriately, philanthropic facilitation? Don’t most donors give because their values and purposes mesh with an institution’s mission? Yes, a solicitation, like a marriage proposal, is a nice way of affirming the importance of and committing to the other, but that’s precisely why it shouldn’t come as a shock. It’s precisely why it should be preceded by a deliberate, thoughtful, earnest, open process that allows the other to grow more receptive to the proposal and more inclined, if not eager to say, “yes.”

When we come on fast and fervent, we make donors wonder, in the words of Carole King:

“Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure?
So tell me now and I won’t ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?”


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 

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