There is an antidote for bad fundraising

by Christiana Stergiou

Like me, you may well subscribe to one of those cool ‘word a day’ type blogs. The other day in my inbox, the word of the day was sitzfleisch.

If you don’t speak German, you probably won’t know the meaning of this word. But then, at once, it reminded me of Ken Burnett’s recent presentations in Australia.

Ken is the author of the seminal fundraising text, Relationship Fundraising and, at the Fundraising Institute of Australia Conference, his five sessions were highly critical of the fundraising profession.

Ken lamented how bad fundraisers and nonprofit staff are at engaging with our kind and wonderful donors, how poorly many fundraisers treat our donors, and quite frankly, how inept and negligent so many individual fundraisers are.

If that sounds a little harsh, let me explain. Ken’s fundraising career has spanned more than thirty years – perhaps longer than many of the fundraising staff in your office have been alive. As he says, at his age (I won’t even guess) he’s got nothing to lose. I hope his presentation resonated with those who needed to hear most what he had to say about them. Unfortunately, I think many thought he was speaking about those ‘other’ fundraising professionals, not themselves.

Now, what on earth does sitzfleish (pronounced, SITZ-flaish) mean? Well explained it thus:

1. The ability to sit through or tolerate something boring.
2. The ability to endure or persist in a task.

Now judging by the state of many fundraising and marketing materials, it would appear that many fundraising professionals and nonprofit managers expect their supporters, or potential supporters to have strong abilities in the sitzfleish department.

As a sector we’re just not doing well enough. Many nonprofit communications are boring, trite, arrogant and poorly thought through. Often, we make it harder, not easier, for people to support our causes. Whether it is our fundraising and marketing materials, the online donation area of our website, or thanking donors properly, there is a lot of work to be done.

Think of the tasks that you and your fundraising team do. How many of these tasks are done in a way passed down through the organisation, or just made up as people go along?

These are not unique tasks; lots of people have done them before, yet many fundraisers tend to just get on with them. They probably don’t refer to books or even research the best fundraising blogs. Driving a car is pretty simple, but we don’t just get in and do it – someone trains us first.

One antidote is to learn what works from those who invented it long before we came along. As a good start, there are a two books and two website resources that you can easily get your hands on:

Fifteen years ago, George Smith wrote a fabulous book, Asking Properly: The Art of Creative Fundraising. It looks at the process of asking, what donors want, what donors get, and fundraising creativity: from envelopes to copywriting to thinking visually.

It amazes me that so many fundraisers get on with these tasks without reading what the experts found out years ago.

Ken Burnett’s book Relationship Fundraising, first published in 1992, still remains a hugely important resource for fundraisers. As evidenced in his presentations last week, Ken remains hugely positive about the transformational power of good fundraising. He says, “Fundraising isn’t about asking for money. It’s about inspiring people to believe they can make a difference – then helping them to make it. So fundraising is the inspiration business.”

Both books are available through

Then, there’s the fabulously inspirational website, the Showcase of Inspiration and Innovation. SOFII is building a timeless, online encyclopaedia that will provide future generations of fundraisers with the knowledge and inspiration they need to raise more funds for their important causes. SOFII website is bursting with hundreds of fundraising examples, tutorials and articles for you to learn from.

And the final resource is the new website I’ve been working on, It is a brand new resource, which aims to provide excellent quality news, reviews and fundraising books for anyone who needs to raise more money for their important cause. Just pop over to the website and subscribe to the latest news at (Scribbly Bark e-news subscribers, you will get your own personal invitation in your inbox soon).

Happy fundraising and happy learning.

A version of this article was originally published at an interesting site working to build communities to take action for social change.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lysh 22 May, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising remains one of the best fundraising books I’ve ever read. My other favourite is Sargeant and Jay’s Building Donor Loyalty.

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