Sunday, January 27, 2008

New column every Monday: "The Fundraising Guru," January 28, 2008

The most successful fundraisers learn from beggars
by Stephen L. Goldstein

Successful fundraisers never think of themselves as mere beggars. The complete reverse! But as it turns out, the MOST successful beggars sound remarkably like highly effective fundraisers. An Associated Press article on panhandling by Adam Goldman opened the world of begging to me. Here are seven strategies from the streets that can benefit every nonprofit organization—from fundraiser to board member.

1. Tell the truth: Goldman identifies a subgroup of successful, New York City “truth-teller” beggars: “They don’t sell pirated movies or stolen candy. They don’t strum old guitars, blow into tarnished saxophones or screech country songs off key.” Their stories are real. In the words of one panhandler he interviewed, “Telling the truth will set you free.” For organizational fundraisers, telling the truth is sine qua non. And yet, how many times do nonprofits unfortunately obfuscate the compelling reality of their message by looking for some glitzy, Madison-Avenue way of making a pitch?

From The Beggar’s Handbook by the pseudonymous M.T. Pockets, here are additional, choice bits of panhandler wisdom, which I’ve turned into strategies for successful fundraising:

2. Have a plan: “The successful beggar picks the time and place as much as he selects the person to approach. At all times, the successful beggar is aware, coherent, and in full control of the situation, even though his intended giver is usually not aware of this.” Would-be fundraisers who think they can send a cold letter or make a cold phone call to some well-known philanthropist and strike it rich should warm up to some good beggarly advice.

3. Use psychology: “When you look at someone as a potential giver, you have to ask yourself some questions. You cannot make assumptions . . . you have to ask yourself questions and get some concrete answers based upon observation and your experience. So choose an intended benefactor and size him or her up.”

4. Persist: “Just be sure to keep rejection in its proper perspective; everyone is rejected from time to time. Try, try again; even the people who once rejected you might give to you later on when your routine is more polished.” Learn to tell the difference between a No (We can’t give to your worthy project at this time) and No (Forget it!). Foundations and corporations often make donations at specified times of the year. Knowing their cycle of giving may be the key to your success.

5. Be creative: “Always experiment with new ideas and routines; discard those that don’t work and keep those that do.” Too often, fundraisers don’t know what they’re doing right. For example, few fundraising events are worth all the time and effort that goes into them—if volunteer and planning hours were figured into the mix of true costs.

6. Make your donor feel good: “The most successful business transactions are those that leave both parties happy after the transaction is complete.” Key word: both!

7. Be upbeat and thankful: In Street Sense, here's how George Siletti, who was homeless off and on for 25 years, advises beggars: “And most of all you should smile at the person and if money is given always say thank you or a kind word.” Fundraisers who haven’t mastered the art of giving genuine thanks will defeat themselves.

Send your questions and comments to Stephen L. Goldstein at He is the author of the nationwide bestseller, 30 Days to Successful Fundraising. He also hosts “Fundraising Success” on 90.7, WXEL/National Public Radio, Sundays 7 to 8 p.m., and available from anywhere in the world 24/7 at

Monday, January 21, 2008

New column every Monday: "The Fundraising Guru"--Jan. 21, 2008

Fundraisers: You're being unethically bankrupt when you break your bank

by Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein

Way back when in Italy, financially sound bankers conducted their business from a banca, a table or bank. But when their business failed, their banca was rotta or physically broken to keep them from doing business.

Think of ethical fundraising as a 3-legged bank or stool.

The 1st leg is what's legal--and more. The 2nd is what's in the best interest of the donor. The 3rd leg is what's in the best interest of the nonprofit. You're ONLY acting ethically when ALL 3 legs are strong.

Leg 1:
At a minimum to be fundraising ethically, you must observe certain laws. But ethical conduct transcends simply what's legal. That's a cop-out. Laws are written with loopholes--sometimes intended, sometimes not. Ethical conduct has no loopholes. You can act fully WITHIN the law and be behaving unethically.

Leg 2:
Fundraisers' primary obligation is to a donor or potential donor.

It is unethical to raise money knowing that internal issues at your organization could compromise a gift. Fundraisers must demand that their organizations are squeaky clean. And nonprofits must be certain that fundraisers are keep fully informed about their internal workings.

Leg 3:
It is unethical to accept a gift ONLY to give a donor a tax benefit.

When a donor's tax or other benefit is greater/worth more than his contribution to the nonprofit, you are acting unethically to accept it.

It is illegal/ unethical for anyone associated with a nonprofit to personally benefit from a fundraising transaction--directly or indirectly.

Break one or more of fundraising's 3 legs and your conduct may not only be unethical: it may bankrupt your nonprofit.

Send your comments and questions to Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein at

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Monday, January 14, 2008

New column every Monday: "The Fundraising Guru"--Jan. 14, 2008

Asking: 5 Congitations
by Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein

Here are some thought-provoking cogitations on asking. It's so central to fundraising that too many people take it for granted. Ask yourself about asking. Compare what works--or has worked--for you:

1. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."--Matthew 7:7
Sure, right, believe it! This may work in a consciousness-raising weekend, but it's a dumb assumptiong in fundraising.

2. "In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman."--Margaret Thatcher
Maggie's sexism is probably on target in politics. But in fundraising, if you want anthing be sure you know who holds the purse-strings. You may be surprised who's say sways the day.

3. "Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want."--Joseph Wood Krutch
I've never had a cat, so I don't know the truth of this statement. But in principle, I'd have to say that successful fundraising don't just ask; they know precisely what they want.

4. "Ask the man who owns one"--Advertising slogan for Packard automobiles.
What great advice for fundraisers: Ask your current donors how to approach other donors; they are the perfect ones to tell you.

5. "O Jerry . . . Don't let's ask for the moon! We have the stars!"--Olive Higgins Prouty
What a perfect thought about being grateful for what we have: Our moon is some other galaxy's star. In fundraising, too many people say/think: "What have you done for us lately?" Perhaps, more people need appreciate what they've received before moving on.
Add your thoughts on asking to Stephen Goldstein's. Email comments and questions to him at

Monday, January 07, 2008

New column every Monday: January 7, 2008

"The Fundraising Guru"
It's your board, stupid!
by Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein

This is a one-sentence column:
Your nonprofit will NEVER thrive; your fundraising will never truly succeed--unless and until your board gives and gets others to do so, until it hurts.

This is the first law of fundraising. Yet, the truth is that most boards don't live up to their fundraising responsibility. Meditate on this idea and send me your comments, question, and strategies for lighting a fire under your board:

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