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Be Good to Fundraisers Month

Leah Olm is the Director of Coaching and Curriculum for RaiseMN, a fundraising coaching and training program of GiveMN. Learn more at raisemn.org or by emailing raisemn@givemn.org

Fundraisers have the kind of job that no one wants to know about.

I quickly learned it is the kind of job that shuts down  conversation at parties. But fundraisers are the reason nonprofits can protect the wilderness, produce edgy theatrical productions, shelter homeless animals, fight for women’s rights, feed hungry Minnesotans, and push against racism.

The resources we raise are what power all of the causes we care about. Nearly one-third of all charitable giving in the  United  States  happens in December. The final quarter of the year is rough on fundraisers. We are managing hundreds of logistics: Is our bulk mail account up to date? Did our accountant cut that check? Did our Executive Director finally send over their electronic signature? Can we try to gently shepherd, cajole, or bribe our board into doing their calls?

We  are managing to get these  pieces aligned without making enemies. In other  words,  this  is  the  time  of year when fundraisers stop sleeping.

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It is also the time of year when everyone needs fundraisers to be at their best. There are tangible things donors can do to make the lives of Minnesota’s fundraisers easier, and to make fundraising better for everyone involved.

Give Sustainably

Most donors give in the final months of the calendar year. That timing is risky. People forget. Donors go on vacation for long chunks of time. Things get lost in the shuffle around the holidays. This risk is especially acute for small organizations.

Entire budgets can be made or lost by a few folks who forget to renew before they head out of town for the new year.

Donors can ensure more breathing space for their favorite organizations by changing the way they give. If you typically make an end-of-year gift, consider breaking that gift into an automatic monthly contribution. Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio, we know about the value of being a sustaining donor to the causes you care about.

What is especially important for mid- sized and small organizations is that monthly giving allows them to budget. They know they will have resources coming in every month of the year.

It is the difference between having a regular paycheck and getting paid in a lump sum once a year — an uncertainty few of us would tolerate in our personal lives.

Give Your Trust

Like most donors, most nonprofit organizations are smart, passionate, careful, and trustworthy. They are in the field every day, pushing back against some of society’s toughest problems.

Each nonprofit approaches their mission differently, tailored to their unique purpose and audience.

The same is true of the staff within those organizations. Often staff have lived experience with the work they do. They are survivors of sexual assault, or they have been in poverty. Or they have experienced the daily grind of racism. That makes organizations, and the folks who work within them, the experts in their work.

Our sector has a habit of mistakenly placing expertise on donors. The idea is that donors’ input is somehow more strategic, or that donors should be the watchdogs of nonprofit organizations.

My best donors start with a baseline trust that we know what we are doing. They want to know how we do our work, and why we choose to do it that way. They want to know how to support us in that effort. It makes it easier to build a collaborative, powerful, equal relationship with that donor — one based in mutual respect and shared values.

Give Yourself

Leah Olm (photo by Sarah Whiting at Fika, one of her favorite bakeries.

You don’t get into fundraising unless you genuinely like people. Meeting with donors and getting to know them as human beings is the single best part of this job. At its best, fundraising is seeing a donor for who they really are. It is about learning what donors love, what they value, and what they hope for, and manifesting those things.

So, when a fundraiser asks if you want to grab coffee, or to see their mission in action: say yes. Give them   a shot at knowing who you are. Give yourself the chance to be surprised, moved, or inspired. Give that fundraiser the opportunity to show you what is possible when you band together to change this world.