Development Is a Program

Recently, on a forum I frequent, I came across this question:

Fundraising seems like a full time job. How do you do it when you’re the only employee of your nonprofit, and you have to do it all, from programming, accounting, marketing, events, and fundraising?

I responded on that forum, but I wanted to take a minute to flesh out my response here.

One of the mistakes that a lot of nonprofits make is thinking that development is something that they do in addition to their programs. Often, those nonprofits believe that development is something they do in order to support their real work: it’s how they raise the money to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for abandoned animals, and so on.

I believe that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of nonprofits and the role of development. I believe that development is part of the mission of every nonprofit.

In a sense, every nonprofit has two sets of clients. One is the group of people we usually think of as clients. The other is the donors who support the organization. You see, one of the purposes of a nonprofit organization is to be a conduit for the power of its donors to change the world; every nonprofit is an organization that donors give through, not just to. People who want to feed the hungry do that by giving through nonprofits that feed the hungry. People who want to house the homeless do that by giving through nonprofits that house the homeless. And so on. Those donors might do other things as well, but one of the ways they take action is through their giving.

Once a nonprofit sees this, it can begin understanding its donors not as potential sources of funding, but as people who it is serving.

Realizing that doesn’t make fundraising any less work. It doesn’t diminish the size of ‘doing it all’. But it does change the nature of that work. Once the only employee, and the Board, and volunteers, understand that fundraising and stewardship are part of the mission, they can integrate that work into the work of the organization. And that can make an unbelievable difference.