The Busy Volunteer's Guide to Fundraising

The Busy Volunteer's Guide to Fundraising

Kay Sprinkel Grace

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The Busy Volunteer's Guide to Fundraising
The Truths and Nothing But the Truths About Raising Money for Your Cause

by Kay Sprinkel Grace, 110 pp

When it comes to fundraising, how do you make the best use of your volunteers’ time?

You communicate exactly what they need to know to raise money - and no more.

In The Busy Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising, Kay Sprinkel Grace homes in on “the truths and nothing but the truths” about what works in fundraising and what doesn’t.

Having worked with tens of thousands of volunteers for several decades, Grace knows better than to bog them down with pages and pages of theory.

Instead, she delivers the essential “how-to’s” in a jargon-free, one-hour-to-read book that achieves three things:

1) It opens eyes and dispels a host of misunderstandings about raising money

2) It shows that it doesn’t takes hours and hours of preparation to succeed at fundraising

3) It empowers volunteers to get about the task at once

If you want to make the most productive use of your volunteers’ time - and motivate them to raise money efficiently – then Kay Sprinkel Grace has drawn the blueprint you need.

About the Author

Kay Sprinkel Grace is a skilled professional and articulate trend spotter in the nonprofit sector and a seasoned volunteer. Based in San Francisco, she is widely sought as a speaker across the globe. Her recent focus is on the swiftly changing face and fabric of philanthropy.

Kay’s consulting clients span the nonprofit sector: public media, arts, culture, education, health, social services and the environment. Author of seven books on fundraising and boards, and speaker at recent professional gatherings in Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Australia and Canada as well as the United States, she has gathered insights and exchanged ideas with a wide array of leaders.

Kay has received Stanford University’s highest award for volunteer leadership service, The Gold Spike, and was recognized with the Pink Carnation Award from Gamma Phi Beta. In 2013 she received the Henry A. Rosso Award for Lifetime Achievement in Ethical Fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Table of Contents


1. Donors give to your organization because you meet needs, not because you have needs

2. Fundraising is as much about relationships as it is money

3. Tax deductibility, which most nonprofits can offer, isn’t a powerful incentive

4. Individuals are the largest source of gifts, not foundations and corporations

5. Special events aren’t the most effective way to raise money

6. To attract donors, you need to tell your organization’s story

7. Donors want to see the measurable impact you’re having

8. Yours doesn’t have to be a household name to attract a donor’s attention

9. For big gifts you need to ask in person

10. Don’t depend on publicity and advertising to raise money

11. People genuinely like to give

12. Donors come from every walk of life

13. Even if your worthy cause makes people uncomfortable, you can find support

14. You can raise substantial money even if you don’t know any wealthy people

15. Giving involves both the head and the heart

16. Almost everyone is uncomfortable with asking for money

17. Values, not wealth, determine a person’s willingness to give

18. There are no “right words” when asking

19. You have to give before you can ask

20. Always ask for a specific amount

21. You can ask donors to give more than once a year

22. Staff aren’t always the right or the best askers

23. Ethical consultants and fundraising hires don’t bring with them a list of people to solicit

24. It takes money to raise money in a campaign

25. You don’t need a powerful board of directors to be successful with fundraising

26. Everyone has to be involved in resource development: volunteers, board, and staff

27. Focus on all donors, not just big donors

28. Estate gifts come from donors at all levels

29. You can raise money even if you don’t have a stable of annual donors

30. Asking for a gift that’s too big is as bad as asking for one too small

31. We have no right to prejudge a donor’s willingness or ability to give

32. Not all campaigns require a feasibility study

33. All volunteers need fundraising training specific to their organization

34. All gifts deserve heartfelt gratitude

35. Those who support organizations with similar missions are likely to support yours

36. Fundraising has multiple objectives

37. You may need a consultant even if you have fundraising staff

38. Even in today’s fast-paced world, most donors still want to be cultivated

39. If your organization is struggling in its campaign, reexamine your case and your methods

40. Don’t expect a windfall gift, but be ready in case it comes

41. The more you do it, the more rewarding fundraising is

42. There’s plenty of philanthropy to go around

43. We’re public benefit corporations, not charities

A Final Word


This article is excerpted from The Busy Volunteer's Guide to Fundraising, by Kay Sprinkel Grace ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email us.

In her book, The Busy Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising, Kay discusses a range of truths that must be understood and taken to heart by the dedicated volunteers who help to raise money for our worthy causes. In this excerpt, she singles out just three of the 43 truths.

Donors give to your organization because you meet needs, not because you have needs

This is the most important truth in fundraising. Get this one right and the others will be easier to realize.

Think of the most successful philanthropic organizations in the US—our universities, hospitals, and major arts organizations. They don’t portray themselves as needy. They present themselves as organizations meeting needs. They showcase their successes. They quantify their impact. 

During last decade’s economic downturn, I received countless solicitations from organizations bemoaning their budget shortfalls, their tail-spinning annual funds, and the programs sure to be cut without my support. These groups erroneously thought I’d give simply because they had needs. What I wanted to know instead was exactly what societal needs they were addressing.

By contrast, during the same period Stanford University raised more than $6 billion from 160,000 donors. How was this possible? Certainly, part of the reason is the stature of Stanford. But just as importantly the university presented opportunities for donors to invest in the long-term needs of society such as the environment and energy. 

You can do the same by telling the stories of those whose needs you have met. Whatever your cause – whether it’s the arts, health, aging, domestic violence, or children’s needs – there is no constraint on the hopeful message you can send.

The truth is plain to see: people invest in impact not in needy organizations.

Fundraising is as much about relationships as it is money

This is the second-greatest truth, and in our hurry to raise money we often forget it.

Successful organizations build and nurture relationships. They rely on volunteers like you to be the bridge to the community, bringing people who share the organization’s values into the fold.

You play a critical role, whether it’s meeting new people and bringing them to an event, sharing your enthusiasm about an organization over lunch, or listening to a friend talk about something of great importance and realizing that the group for which you volunteer has programs matching your friend’s interests and values.

Organizations that hold their ground and even thrive during recessions are those that, with your help, have solid bonds with their donors. Even in bad times, these organizations continue to ask supporters to invest in the successes they’ve already helped to build. And feeling like partners, donors respond.

For too long we’ve viewed fundraising as transactional—where all the effort is put into securing the gift and very little into developing a productive relationship. But by forging a partnership with our donors, not only do we communicate the gratitude they’re owed, we markedly increase the chances they’ll stay with us through both thick and thin times.

To attract donors, you need to tell your organization’s story

How wonderful it would be if, because ours is a good cause, people rushed to give.  Occasionally that happens with a new organization but the glow quickly fades.

In truth, we have to tell our stories constantly. Fortunately, there have never been more opportunities to tell those stories—and tell them well—than today. 

Social media platforms abound and savvy organizations use them. Tweeting is expected; a Facebook page is a must; your website should be vibrant and current; and emails have to be tailored to the recipients’ interests and issues (forget email blasts except in rare cases like a broad-scale disaster).

Believing that people will discover how wonderful your group is without marketing yourself is akin to the 1940s Hollywood starlet who thought she’d be discovered by sitting at the soda fountain at Schraft’s Drug Store. Maybe it worked for one or two, but as a career strategy it was a failure.

In Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins proposes a constructive idea.  Acknowledging that much of what our sector does can’t really be measured, he suggests we gather our statistics - for example, “Last year we served 147 at-risk mothers with our parenting program” - and then tell one story of one of those mothers to illustrate impact. The person who reads the story will himself or herself multiply that impact by 147.

Tell your truth. Tell your impact. Let your good cause out from under the bushel basket. If you don’t turn on the light, who will?