Why Advocates Make the Best Fundraisers

One of those books that I’ve had on my nightstand for months (thank goodness for really long checkouts from the university library) is Fundraising for Social Change.

Once I finally opened it up, I found not only some still-relevant and very applicable (although my edition is somewhat outdated, technology-wise) fundraising strategies, especially for grassroots social change organizations, but also even more parallels between advocacy and fundraising than I had contemplated before. This has me thinking about how fundraisers are advocates for their causes, and how advocates should spend more time asking for money, and I want to hear from those who are fundraisers and those who are advocates (and those who consider themselves both!) about your reactions to these areas of overlap. In the weeks to come, I’ll sprinkle in some posts with some specific ideas about how some of the strategies suggested in Fundraising for Social Change might be applied in an advocacy context, but, here, I’m more interested in the big picture, a sort of “Venn Diagram” of how the worlds of asking for money and asking for policy change collide.

  • Organizations that ask most frequently get the best response: This is true in fundraising, and explains part of why people give so many of their charitable dollars to religious institutions, and it’s true for advocates, too. I’ve won at least one legislative battle, in particular, because I refused to go away, and I’ve garnered more than a couple of votes by having the audacity to just ask.
  • You need strategies to acquire, retain, and upgrade: We can’t use the same messages to bring in new people, keep those we have, and move people from peripheral to central involvement, and that’s true for fundraising and for the realms of organizing and advocacy. We lose people when it’s obvious we’re not exactly talking to them, and we can miss out on valuable opportunities to help people take the next step, too.
  • Nonprofit Boards matter…a lot: I’ve never seen a successful advocacy program, over the long term, in an organization without a supportive Board of Directors, and without the active participation of those core community leaders, fundraising efforts stagnate, too.
  • Emphasize your passion, but don’t forget to close the deal: I’ve debriefed with advocates often, only to find that they can’t tell me whether they have the support of the person they just lobbied. They didn’t directly ask. We get the most sympathetic attention when we stress our connection to the cause and the reasons it matters, but we have to stop talking at least long enough to listen to the other’s response.
  • Don’t apologize: I never felt bad about asking an elected official to do something morally correct but politically unpopular. I was giving them the valuable chance to do the right thing. Asking for money is the same way. People give because they want to invest in a collective response to a social problem, which is why people decide to support certain courses of policy action, too. They’re grateful for those opportunities, and we provide a valuable public service by providing them.
  • There’s no substitute for preparation: Fundraising for Social Change emphasizes the importance of understanding your donors, and your prospects, and of entering the conversation with the data and the practice you need to succeed. Obviously, that’s true in many life and professional endeavors, but especially in advocacy, where (as in fundraising) you may only have 5 minutes or so to make your case. You need to maximize every moment.

    I don’t love asking people for money. Just as I don’t naturally love confrontations with elected officials or media representatives, or policy debates with my neighbors. But I know that I can do it, and I have, and I will, because I know that winning advocacy campaigns requires money, and that money which is raised from our constituency is money that is more secure and more empowering than that which is begged from distant benefactors. I see raising the money to fund social change as an extension of my belief in it, and so it must be part of the equation.

    And you, advocates, can fundraise too.

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