There is an innate need we all have to do something. I remember my dad walking into a room where I was allegedly at work. He looked at me and gave me some advice, "Hey, if you're not going to work that's one thing. But at least look busy!"
I'm not thinking that was necessarily the best thing he could have said to me. I was young enough to take it to heart and it has been something, quite frankly, that has stuck with me. Somehow I learned to equate activity with success. I had it all figured out, if I could work longer and harder than anyone else, if I could travel further and be exposed to more people and projects than the average guy, then I would be successful.
I think my dad must have said that to a lot of people. Because everywhere I go, I see lots of people working themselves into a frenzy trying to raise money for short-term needs. At the end of the day they didn't raise enough and everyone was exhausted. But at least they looked busy!
I've been kind of grumbling most of my career about fund-raisers. I typically just don't like them for while, yes, they raise some money most of the money is pretty valueless in terms of its long-term developmental impact. Better to raise one dollar from a friend who believes in your mission and has confidence in your ability to accomplish it than to raise five dollars from selling (not so good) candy bars!
But . . . and there is a "but" here, some fund-raisers do have developmental value. And before you give up on me totally, listen carefully: the value may not be in the money that is raised from a fun-raiser as much as the potential tangible impact that it can have on a comprehensive development program.
Fund-raisers should be evaluated in light of two very practical things: (1) can you through the fund-raiser get "qualified" names to add to your database? and (2) even if you could, what is the percentage of likelihood that those fund-raising participants could be converted into a rational donor?
A "qualified" prospect is someone with some kind of linkage to your organization. It could be a relative of a client, an employer of a company where an employee benefits from your services, a member of a church that gains value from your work, or just a friend or neighbor of someone related to your organization. Name acquisition is the starting line in development. Relationships can only be created when they are focused on someone, and fund-raisers may be a means through which some will come to know you.
Conversion, in a development conversation, defines what happens when someone moves from an emotional relationship to a rational one. Most fund-raisers appeal to the emotion. When my little neighbor girl comes to my door to sell Girl Scout cookies, I break the bank. Is it because I love the Girl Scouts? Is it because I know their incredible mission, that I totally believe in it and am absolutely confident that they can change the world? Heavens no. I just like my neighbor girl and don't really mind the cookies. And even if the Girl Scouts of America could get the name and address of everyone who purchased cookies, the cost of trying to shift the relationship from an emotional one to a rational one would probably be cost prohibitive.
So, is there such a thing as a good fund-raiser?
Yes, there really is. A fund-raiser that generates good names that you might never get from anything you're currently doing is a good fund-raiser. Auctions are good if they are strategically focused on ultimately developing support among organizations and service providers in a community. Golf Tournaments can be good if they are organized with the intent of identifying, cultivating, and seeking to engage business leaders in a community. And jogs, walks, and a variety of other type "thons" can be helpful if they are part of a comprehensive strategy to meaningful engage fringe prospects into active partners in our work.
It's important to remember, however, that even "good" fund-raisers can end up being bad if the event is looked at as an end in itself. Everything should move in development. And the destination is always a fulfilling, life-long partnership with people who choose to walk with us on the journey of fulfilling a vision rooted in a solid and worthwhile mission.
Oh, by the way, sales are horrible fund-raisers. They consume great amounts of energy and the only thing left when the fund-raiser is over is money that will never be replicated apart from the next sales event. Food for thought.