Tipperary, the long walk, and fundraising

“The leadership pool has never been more shallow,” a recently retired pastor commented as a carload of us hurried to the airport following a seminary board meeting.

“Why do you think that is?” I asked.

“Too few folks are willing to do the long walk,” he replied.

Heads nodded knowingly as the wise board member continued: “If they can’t step immediately into the top spot, they’re not interested. The idea of leadership sounds inviting but too many would-be leaders want a pass on the work it takes to get there.”

As the conversation moved on, my thoughts drifted away from leadership and toward fundraising. I recalled conversations with nonprofit leaders eager to jump into a capital campaign with little more than a lick of development success to the organization’s credit. It was mine to break the hard news that without having done the work necessary to back up their fundraising BHAGs, they and their organizations are headed for disappointment.

There’s no short cut or fast-track to fundraising success. As with Tipperary of Irish ballad fame, it’s a long way to go. So lace up your walking shoes and get moving. Now.


. . .  just stepping out. Success in fundraising begins with gifts in support of everyday activities – the donations that keeps the place humming. Fundraising guru Henry Rosso described gifts for annual purposes as “the building block for all other fundraising. . . the cornerstone and the key to success for all aspects of the resources development program.”

For the majority of folks, the annual fund is the doorway by which they enter your community of support and this is the fundraising method that brings them back year after year. In short, side-step this leg of the long walk and your fundraising program will be in trouble.

Beyond the essential operating dollars raised, a robust annual giving program

  • Establishes habits of giving to your organization.
  • Creates an informed and engaged constituency.
  • Develops and widens the base of support.
  • Stewards relationships through annual contacts.
  • Creates the context for major gift fundraising.
  • Prepares the way for planned giving.

. . . further down the road. Having stretched out your fundraising muscles with the annual fund, you’re ready to step it up with major gift fundraising. By this I mean a targeted effort, involving selected prospects whose capacity to give bigger than most folks and whose interests/passions match the purpose for which funds are sought. Much of the time, major gifts are solicited and given for restricted purposes.

That said, larger-than-the-norm gifts are always a blessing and sometimes a necessity in meeting annual needs. Because major donors tend to come from the ranks of long-time annual givers (see the 5th bullet in the list above), you don’t have to convince them of the importance of funding the everyday work.

Beyond the essential special project dollars raised, an ongoing major gifts effort

  • Encourages planning on the part of the organization.
  • Raises the sites of donors.
  • Challenges the staff.
  • Encourages a customized approach to donor relations.
  • Deepens donor commitment to the organization and its programs.

. . . further still. With annual fund and major gift experience tucked in your fundraising backpack, you’re ready to tackle the challenging terrain of a capital campaign. It’s at this point that having done the long walk (or not) most matters. As Rosso explains, “Discipline is the nature of this intensive form of fundraising. [Campaigning] requires unremitting attention to details starting with responsible pre-planning analysis, continuing through goal setting and leadership enlistment, to program execution and conclusion.”

When done right and well, a campaign boosts an organization’s self-esteem, reputation among its constituency, and prospects for future fundraising. A successful campaign propels an organization forward. A failed campaign, however, is a nasty detour that can set an organization back by years. Needless to say, you don’t want to go there.

Beyond the significant dollars raised in a relatively short time, a capital campaign

  • Does everything a major gifts initiative does, and more.
  • Encourages stretch gifts from across the whole of the donor base.
  • Provides opportunities for enhanced visibility and “horn tooting” for the organization.
  • Builds the board’s competency in fundraising.


Regardless where you are in the long walk toward the fundraising success you want, keep on keeping on. Plan your walk and walk your plan, day in and day out.

And should you want a companion in the journey – a sister traveler to encourage and help keep you on course – give me a call. That’s what I do.

For more about the importance of persistence in fundraising, see:

Punching up your fundraising program

Before rushing headlong into fundraising, consider this

Fundraising success guaranteed, almost

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