There are essentially two approaches to raising funds that organizations can use:
A needs-based approach, where the organization appeals to givers on the basis of what it needs.
A vision-based approach, where the organization appeals to givers on the basis of what it wants to accomplish.
Why needs-based fundraising falls short
Every organization has needs, and potential donors know this. That’s not the problem.
The problem is that focusing primarily on needs doesn’t inspire people to engage deeply with the organization or ministry. It doesn’t help them to become a vital part of that ministry community. Instead it turns them into something like firefighters, whose only real connection with the ministry is putting out the fires of need that are always flaring up.
Needs-based fundraising all too often is done in crisis mode. If an organization lacks a sustainable base of support, most of its appeals will end up having an air of desperation about them. Granted, there are times when there really is a crisis that calls for an urgent appeal (think Red Cross). But without a base of regular, ongoing, committed support, virtually all of the organization’s funds will end up being raised through needs. Donors get tired of propping up a poorly led and poorly funded organization.
Needs-based fundraising becomes a treadmill. The organization is always having to come up with a new reason to ask people for money, such as replacing carpets, upgrading the computers, or buying more beds for the homeless shelter.
And that’s really why we leaders start to feel like we’re begging or manipulating, or why we feel like we’re doing a multi-level marketing pitch, where we’re trying to sell soap to somebody. It’s why we don’t like it, and it’s why the people that we’re talking to don’t like it.
Because of these things, a great deal of frustration comes from trying to raise money from people on the basis of needs. They don’t necessarily perceive that need as being as significant as the leaders do. It can in fact be a significant need, but if the people that we’re asking money from don’t understand that need or don’t perceive the need with the same intensity, then they’re not likely to give much, if at all. They’re certainly not likely to give ongoing support.
Raise funds based on vision rather than needs
Vision-based fundraising is a much more effective approach, because it seeks first to draw the community into relationship. As that relationship is built, they catch the vision. Giving toward the needs then becomes a necessary step toward fulfilling the vision. All kinds of fundraising are not so much about money as they are about relationships.
What we want is for people to buy into our vision, to begin to share our vision and become part of what we’re trying to accomplish. That’s vital to any kind of fundraising. Otherwise what people are going to give to it, if they give at all, is going to be essentially pocket change.
When we work on getting people to engage with us on a vision level, they begin to experience and understand what we are doing as having a more personal impact on them. They want to be part of a ministry that means something to them. And when it means something to them—when they’ve caught the vision—they’ll be glad to give.
Are most of your fundraising efforts based on needs or on vision?