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The Joys of Fundraising: Resource Development

January 2002
By: Tom Lothamer and Michele D. Shoun

A solid resource development program will take your eyes off the bottom line and give you a new perspective of the process of developing a wider array of resources.

"It never hurts to ask." That's what my assistant, Linda, said after making the call to a concert promoter. I'd suggested she ask him for more of the artist's CDs at a better price than the contract normally allots. She was relieved when he readily agreed, but it should have come as no surprise because the promoter is a good friend of mine. We've known each other for years and done favors back and forth. I knew I could count on him to help us.

Yet, sometimes it does hurt to ask. It's hard to ask strangers for money or other donations. As a result, fundraising is often the least favorite, most neglected aspect of a pregnancy care center director's job. It doesn't have to be that way. When the task is viewed instead as a part of "resource development," I believe the job is much more enjoyable.

What is resource development? How does it differ from what we typically think of as fundraising? Fundraising is... well, raising money for a ministry, having as its sole concern the bottom line. It is one element of resource development, but resource development goes far beyond fundraising. It involves building a supporting constituency around a worthwhile cause or organization. It includes getting volunteers who will give time and finding others who will offer prayer support.

Resource development is not an exotic art. It doesn't involve the gimmicks that are usually associated with fundraising or a slick sales pitch to capture the attention and cash of unsuspecting donors. Instead, resource development is always compatible with and complementary to the objectives and ideals of the organization. It maintains the donor's integrity and pays attention to his needs. It is financially responsible and reflects realistic goals.

A resource development program is always donor-centered. Fostering genuine relationships with donors is the key element of resource development.

Would you rather find one chunk of gold or a gold mine? While finding gold is exciting and somewhat easier than digging in the earth all day, in the long run, gold mines are more profitable.

Sometimes fundraisers think they've succeeded when they garner a sizable donation for an urgent need, but if they subsequently ignore the donor or treat him as though he's wanted only for his cash, that source will dry up. Or, if the fundraiser considers it a failure when a potential donor says no, he will view continued work in that "mine" to be a waste of time, write the person off, and move on.

In contrast, a resource development program is always donor-centered. A resource developer's goal is to identify and secure resources continually. Resource developers are not out to secure just a gift but to build lasting relationships with people. Therefore, resource developers always keep in mind donors' interests, resources, circumstances, abilities, and needs to share in a worthwhile cause in a significant way.

The first thing a resource developer must do is identify all the sources from which support can be expected to come. Such a list would include everyone related to the organization and its objectives. Then, those on the list ought to be informed properly about the organization, motivated to invest in it, and invited to have a stake in its future.

The test of resource development

Answering the following questions will help you determine whether or not your current program should be characterized as mere fundraising or as resource development: Do you know, care about, and regularly pray for the needs of donors by name? When a donor is no longer able to support the organization, do you continue to nurture the relationship? If you answer both questions affirmatively, you're a resource developer.

Fostering genuine relationships with donors is the key element of resource development, but it is also characterized by four additional attributes.

1. Resource development is objective-directed. When Alice asked for directions in Wonderland, she received this reply: "But where do you want to go? If you don't know where you are going, it doesn't matter very much how you get there."

A good resource development program carefully validates for donors every effort that the organization is making in fulfilling its mission. Communication with donors must include answers to these questions: What is the request's objective? What is the organization hoping to accomplish with the requested gift? An effective request, whether it be in person or in writing, will give donors a peek inside the ministry, tell a story, help them better understand what it is you do.

If clear objectives are not stated, you'll appear to be running programs simply to keep machinery moving, meet deadlines, and answer correspondence. Without having objectives clearly in mind, you'll be hard pressed to justify your efforts or the expenses related to them. Be specific. Be pragmatic. Work in terms of measurable results and the achievement of specific objectives. Frame your requests using those same terms.

2. Resource development is well rounded and balanced. A good resource development program must offer a wide range of giving opportunities. Some of the elements in well-rounded development programs include: Annual giving programs, Corporate and foundation support, Fundraising banquets and other events, Church support, Special project funding, Capital campaigns, Deferred gift programs, Endowment programs

A resource developer knows and can articulate all the possible ways in which a donor can support his organization. When a donor indicates a preference for a certain type of donation (e.g., general fund donations, special projects, large one-time gifts, or monthly support), the resource developer should note this and tailor communications toward that preference.

Answering a few simple questions will help you determine whether or not your current program should be characterized as mere fundraising or as resource development.

Not only will resource development place fundraising efforts in balance, but it will also involve every aspect of the organization in resource development. Everything—from the way the receptionist answers the phone (in a friendly, competent manner) to the way envelopes are addressed (properly and clearly)—reflects on the organization and either will aid or hinder resource development. Everyone in the organization must be taught to understand his or her importance in the overall scheme of care and concern for donors and to present a positive image of the ministry at all times.

3. Resource development is managed for maximum efficiency. If you're unable to accomplish every aspect of a well-rounded program (as listed above), establish priorities to emphasize what can be done with available staff and volunteers. Then plan your development calendar with your greatest needs in mind.

For example, we plan three letters to our general mailing list to arrive in donors' homes prior to those months that are typically most difficult for us financially. We don't wait until needs arise and then send out emergency notices. By then it's too late. What's more, we space out our fundraising events (banquets, concerts, and a golf marathon) so they don't overlap our letters and overwhelm our supporters.

If you cannot put on three major fundraising events in one year because you lack sufficient staff and volunteers, do one or two events really well. Don't do any job halfway, or you'll risk offending precious donors.

It is especially important for resource developers in small organizations to consider the cost of a fundraising effort against the potential for raising dollars by that means.

4. Consistency. Another principal mark of a good resource development program is consistency. Instead of running from crisis to crisis, attempting to solve problems along the way, resource developers are constantly developing resources. Those steady efforts enhance the resource developer's ability to project what the organization can expect from a given fundraising event or effort. Consistency helps a resource developer make both short-term and long-term projections.

It's not important to see how high we can set our financial goals or to satisfy the bottom line, but to determine whether one's performance is on target. If some projects you hoped to accomplish are left undone in a given year, all is not lost. As you keep working at a well-rounded resource development program, enough good things will happen to keep the organization moving and to assure a reasonable sense of security.

The role of special events in resource development

In a resource development program, there are three purposes or goals for holding events such as banquets, concerts, and walkathons:

1. To glorify God and minister to people
2. To create a greater identity for your ministry in the community
3. To raise financial support

These goals are listed in the order of their priority to resource development. If your organization succeeds only in raising funds, you have failed at resource development. But if you succeed in the first two areas, your organization will also enjoy these by-products:

You will educate the donor family and obtain continued financial support
You will bring new members into the donor family
You will identify major gift donors
You will stimulate the growth of the ministry
You will motivate and activate friends of the ministry—more volunteers

Never again think of fundraising as an isolated project. Always view it as an integral part of the larger campaign for developing resources. Orient many of the other aspects of your organization's functions toward resource development, and fundraising will no longer seem like an ominous, distasteful task. When you see donors as people with whom you are establishing and nurturing relationships, you will find resource development to be enjoyable, satisfying, and beneficial for your organization.

Tom Lothamer is President of Life Matters Worldwide in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


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