How many fundraisers does it take to change a world?

“Here’s a development question for you,” wrote a pastor friend from Canada. “ It seems to me as if there has been an explosion of ‘development’ or ‘advancement’ positions in the nonprofit world over the past few years. Perhaps my perception is inaccurate, but if I’m correct, I wonder if this increase is making a difference. Are organizations suddenly raising more money? It seems that if there has been an increase in development workers then there should be more charitable monies raised. But is that really so?”

stick_figure_crank_money_ca_400_clr_4520It’s a pretty safe bet that a lot of folks share my friend’s perception that fundraisers are multiplying in number faster than the proverbial rabbits. And in fact, there are a lot more fundraisers out there than was the case even ten years ago. Despite a tough economy, social entrepreneurs continue to dream up and launch nonprofit organizations at a fast clip. For many, a development staffer is the first person hired.

So yes, my friend has rightly noted the explosion in number of development or advancement positions. But as for whether their combined efforts have resulted in a corresponding explosion in giving, tracking research on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border suggests not.

As reported in Giving USA 2012, individual charitable giving in the United States grew by about 4.0 percent in that year.  Statistics Canada show giving was up 2.6 percent from 2010. Growth yes, but hardly an explosion.


That said, some sectors of the nonprofit world are doing better than others. As has been the case for years, faith-based organizations lead in gifts received. According to Imagine Canada, “going by the size of donations, religious causes are at the top, with average donations of $450, followed by universities and colleges, at $300.” In the U.S. gifts to religious organizations accounted for 32 percent of total charitable giving.

Which likely explains the optimistic expectations of 64 percent of respondents to 2012 Fundraising Survey conducted by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability that annual giving for 2013 will be greater than 2012. That said, ministry CEOs and fundraisers aren’t resting on expectations alone. They know there are roadblocks to overcome, the chief being the economy. Interestingly, inadequate fundraising budget and/or staff also made the obstacles-in-the-way list.

Writing in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry, Thom Jeavons and I caution ministry leaders to be realistic about the number of development staff needed to reach hoped for funding goals. We remind that

Even with God’s blessing, there is a limit to what a one- or two-person fundraising office can produce. To push staff beyond what is humanly possible – and Christians in development work are, after all, human –

Is both unfair and unproductive. Nothing saps the enthusiasm and passion of a fundraising team quicker than the struggle of pursuing unrealistic fundraising goals year after year. Moreover, the stress that comes with striving for goals that are beyond the reach of the organization does bad things to good people, and it causes good people to do bad things.

How many fundraisers does it take to bring about an explosion in giving? No one has the answer. (If I did, I’d tell you. I promise.) But this I believe to be really so. Where the focus is on growing hearts in generosity toward God, even small fundraising teams can accomplish great things. A couple more colleagues – even greater.

Discerning leaders are able to find the right balance between too few and too many development staff. And in answer to my friend’s question, within those organizations, more charitable monies are raised. Better yet, donors are encouraged in their faith.

Related articles:

7 requisites for doing fundraising well

The very reason for fundraising as ministry

To your own self, be generous





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