Stop calling everything fundraising. Everything isn’t.

I bump into it all the time — development folk in small to mid-sized nonprofits and ministry organizations running themselves ragged with activities they call fundraising, but which aren’t. Some of what they’re doing could actually raise a few bucks – maybe even significant money — if done better, before, during and after. But most won’t, now or ever.

The hard truth is this: A lot of that which fills the days (and nights) of exhausted development staff is more aptly labeled marketing, public relations, or friend-raising.

Don’t get me wrong. Investing time, energy, and precious dollar in promoting your organization is important. As I’ve mentioned here at Generous Matters, when too few know or care what an organization does or who’s served by it, fundraising is a tough slog.

That said, name recognition and mission appreciation as stand-alone activities won’t/don’t raise a dime. And “friend” isn’t a synonym for donor, at least not in my dictionary. Slapping the label “fundraising” on any old thing doesn’t make it that.

To borrow a caution from The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”


Here’s a test that can help un-muddy the linguistic waters. If you’re not able to point to new dollars and donors as a result of the work, it’s not fundraising. I don’t care how loud the quack or seductive the waddle.

For the good of the organization, the mission, and your sanity, it’s essential that you clarify definitions and rein in your language. Words matter, and all the more so when your job is to raise funds.

Unless yours is the rare nonprofit or ministry organization for which gift income isn’t all that important, it’s time to stop calling everything fundraising.


For more on the importance of clarity in language and work, see:

Fundraising and eating elephants

Get more done by doing less

For fundraising success, focus


  1. Thank you, Rebekah, for this reminder. The easy work is “friend raising,” and the occasional major gift that happens at the initiative of the donor has a justifying power to us as we find ourselves intimidated to do the real work of fundraising. So glad for your admonition!

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