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Downes Murray International News

Fundraising versus begging

One of the greatest obstacles to fundraising in South Africa is the attitude of many directors and board members of nonprofit organisations. They often feel that asking individuals to give to their cause – either by mail or face-to-face – is really a form of begging which will  only bring disrepute on their organisation and irritate the public.

So they resign themselves to using ineffective fundraising methods and by their attitude, they consign their organisations to living on a shoe-string and merely existing rather than growing!

The more I think about it, the more I realise that fundraising has little or nothing in common with begging. In fact there are five methods used by beggars which are totally contrary to good fundraising.

1. A beggar asks for himself.
A fundraiser never asks for money for himself. He is always asking people to give towards the needs of others. Fundraisers are people with a heart for the needs of others not themselves.

2. A beggar asks everyone who comes by.
Just take a moment to watch how a beggar operates. He will approach anyone and everyone who comes his way – anyone who looks in any way likely to feel sorry for him.

An effective fundraiser uses a targeted approach. He goes to great pains to ask – ‘Who are the people who have a reason to want to support my particular cause?’ Having established this, he targets this group and asks for their support.

3. A beggar asks for small, token gifts.

You’ve heard it often enough. ‘Please can you give me 50c to buy bread?’ This is still what we term ‘token giving’!

On the other hand a fundraiser always asks for meaningful gifts to help others as generously as the donor is able – rather than those who want to give just a token gift to get rid of the asker and to be able to say ‘I gave’!

4. Beggars cannot always be trusted.
Many can testify to the fact that they were taken for a ride and the impassioned plea for help turned out to be nothing but a ‘con’.

The beggar may say he is hungry and has no money – while in fact he actually has a whole pocketful of silver coins. Or that his car has run out of petrol and he desperately needs R5 to get home when he actually has no car!

Effective fundraisers are those who can be trusted to use the money for the purpose for which it was given. And in spite of the so-called scams which are around, those who are involved with reputable, well-established nonprofit organisations can be trusted to use the money for that purpose only.

5. A beggar is not accountable for what he does with the money.

If he asks for money to buy bread and then spends it at the local bottle-store instead, there’s not much the kindly donor can do about it.

But an effective fundraiser is always open with his donors. He tells them how their money has been used. He invites donors to visit the organisation to see for themselves. He makes available copies of audited financial statements. He invites questions from his donors.

In fact, he regards his donors as partners and shareholders in the cause and seeks to develop a climate of mutual trust and accountability. I hope by now you can see that comparing fundraising to begging could never be further from the truth.

However, I want to mention two things fundraisers can learn from those who beg! Beggars are very persistent people. They have to be. They are there every day, rain or sunshine. They keep on asking and never seem to give up.

Every good fundraiser needs to remember that the name of the game is asking – asking the right people to support the right need, at the right time.

Secondly, a beggar is never deterred by those who don’t give. He believes that there are always people out there who will give. So he just keeps on asking. And as people who are serious about fundraising, we must not be knocked back by those who refuse to give. We must have the tenacity to keep on doing the right thing in building relationships and in asking for support.

Although we can take one or two tips from beggars, let’s never consider ourselves as one of that fraternity.

We have a far higher calling than just asking for money for ourselves. Our consuming passion is to find caring people who have the resources and to bring them into contact with the need which we are seeking to address.

And when we do that effectively, the magic happens – they respond – they give generously and in the process, they feel very, very good about doing so!

Graham Wood is a former DMI consultant.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 26, September 1993

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