Fund Raising Realities Provides Sage Advice for Board Members
Book - Fund Raising Realities
Every now and then a book comes along that is pithy and packed full of wisdom based on experience that others can put to work. Fund Raising Realities Every Board Member Must Face by David Lansdowne is one of them.

A professional fundraiser who spent his career working with nonprofits, Lansdowne has compressed decades of experience into a thin volume that can be read easily in an hour.

His key point: “When all is said and done, there are no real mysteries to successful fund raising. Instead there are tested techniques.”

Of course, any generalization can be contradicted with a counter-example. Lansdowne understands this, but is writing to provide guidance to boards that want to institute a predictable approach to fundraising that can lead to success.

This volume is written for boards, because, as the author notes, “the board of directors has the responsibility of ensuring that the organization’s mission is carried out and of necessity that means finding the resources to do so.”

If they are to fulfill their mission, board members need to understand the mission of their organization, Lansdowne advises. While this statement may seem startling—why else would someone join a nonprofit board?—the reality is that “commonly trustees have an indistinct sense of the organization’s purpose and its aims for the future.”

He suggests that in advance of launching a fundraising campaign, the board reach consensus on key issues, such as what distinguishes the organization from others, its top priorities, and its short- and long-range objectives.

Lansdowne addresses the common issues that many nonprofits confront when raising money and provides guidance on how to deal with them, including:
  • Understanding why people donate to nonprofits
  • How to assign top prospects to distinct giving groups.
  • How to prepare volunteer solicitors and prepare them to do their job.
  • Creating an agenda for the face-to-face ask.
  • Why asking for a specific amount is more effective than being open ended.
  • How to evaluate completed campaigns.
Of equal value, Lansdowne outlines the rationale for not engaging in certain activities: why it may not be a good idea to hold special events or print elaborate brochures.

Saying thanks should go without saying, but Lansdowne drives home the point with the following, perhaps apocryphal, story. After John D. Rockefeller donated one dollar to the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington sent a gracious thank you letter and then followed up at the end of the fiscal year with a full accounting of what he had done with the dollar. It was then that Rockefeller began his real support of the Institute.

Because, as the author notes, “board members own the organization and are its stewards,” they must secure the capital needed to keep it vital. However, for every board member there is a first time for engaging in a major fundraising effort. They owe it to themselves to understand what is required of them and what it will take for the campaign to succeed. Reading this book is an excellent first step.

Fund Raising Realities is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
Posted: April 2010