Fundraising is War!

“Fundraising is war!” These words chilled the board members of a local nonprofit, as one of our community’s most celebrated philanthropists talked about getting ready for a capital campaign. Everyone needs to participate. Get on board, or get off the board. Ask, ask, ask!

From a nonprofit’s perspective, these words are rife with wisdom. I have led a staff through a capital campaign, and war is an apt metaphor. Intelligence is essential to determine who will be the most likely donors. Prospects are called in sequence to line up the campaign’s lead gifts, with calling teams strategically chosen to maximize results. Committees of community leaders are formed to broaden the campaign, and strategies such as selling bricks or naming seats are executed to get the smaller givers involved. Internal and external communications keep the troops well informed and highly motivated. Managing morale through the doldrums - that period between the initial success and the final push - takes pure guts.

From a giver’s perspective, however, he or she is turf. Something to be fought for and something to be won. A hill to be captured. Oh, the promises that will be made. The sweetness of the Siren’s song. I recall one campaign from my alma mater where I was “cultivated.” Visited by the President. Asked to host a function, which I did. Communicated with regularly. After I made my gift, I never heard another word. It was on to the next conquest.

“Buyer beware” has never been a more apt expression than referring to a giver during a capital campaign. It is critical for givers to focus clearly on their own priorities and to stand firm, lest they be swayed by a good pitch. The best gifts are when the donor’s objectives and the campaign’s objectives are a great fit. I worry about older people, who may have become fuzzy in their focus and may be swayed by sweet sounds of glorious promises.

If fundraising is war, then givers had best arm themselves with a clear vision and with the fortitude to say “no,” or to confidently and forcefully say “yes” when the cause and the timing are right. If turf is to be won, then let it always be held in friendly, honest hands.

Robert Thalhimer

Posted at 1:00 AM, Aug 19, 2008 in Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comments (1)


It is an apt analogy to some degree, but as you suggest it may be an ugly and uninspiring one.

What if we said that fundraising is music or dance or something more uplifting than the ugliness of war?

When I hear "Fundraising is War" it captures the crass cynical side of the work.

Posted by: Tidy Sum