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Everything You Need to Know About Fundraising in 3 Words

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Here are three words that will transform your fundraising: Belief is enough.

A few weeks ago, we posted an article on this blog titled It Takes 2 Cultures to Make a Great Nonprofit — and That Can Be Hard! It’s about Al Clayton’s brilliant analysis of the main causes of conflict within nonprofits, namely:

For program people, professionalism is defined by rational, unemotional thinking. Emotional thinking can lead to sloppy work and bad decisions.

Fundraising people value emotion. They have to, because fundraising is inherently emotional –you’ve got to meet donors’ emotional needs if you want them to give you money. Without that emotional connection, you’ve got nothing!

One of the people who commented on the post was Wendy Wong of Parkinson Canada. Wendy said several smart things on the topic of this culture clash, including one thing that has really stayed with me. Talking about the way we inspire donors to action with simplicity and emotion, she pointed out the magic that can motivate a donor to donate:

Belief is enough.

Think about that for a moment. That could be the tagline for all great fundraising — Belief is enough.

This is something many fundraisers know, or at least suspect: People give when they believe giving improves the world in some way they care about.

Not when they rationally deduce it.

Not when they arrive at a complete understanding of the programs we want them to support.

Not when their worldview is in sync with the professionals who run those programs.

When they believe.


What is belief? It can be hard to talk about, because it’s so strongly associated with religious faith. But everyone, religious or not, believes things.

Like this: the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is defined by an irrational number called “Pi.” To directly confirm this as a fact, you’d have to calculate forever. (If you’re a certain kind of nerd, you might want to calculate it for a good long time until you were satisfied you’d seen enough.) Most of us accept what our math teachers tell us, so we believe in Pi. Even though we don’t really understand why it’s the way it is.

And that belief in Pi is enough. Enough to pass your math courses. Even close enough to design round things if that’s what you want to do.

Effective fundraising is a bit like that. But harder.

Let’s imagine we’re raising money to support Pi. A lot of organizations would do it like this:

  • Explain why Pi is what it is.
  • Teach donors to calculate Pi for themselves.
  • Try to make them practical experts in Pi.
  • Brag about how good their organization is in the cause of supporting Pi.

They think this is going to work, because they are part of the Program Culture, and their experience (as non-fundraisers) tells them it takes knowledge and facts to effectively build and run their programs. For them, the way to get people to do things correctly is to give them good explanations. This assumption is correct for their programs. But not for fundraising.

If we wanted to succeed at getting people to support Pi, our fundraising would have to tell donors three things:

  1. Pi is real. The easy part, since we’d be talking to people we know are inclined to believe this (assuming we’ve been smart about how we select our audience). But we still need to make it real for them.
  2. Pi is important. Slightly more difficult, as knowing something and caring about it are not the same thing.
  3. You can make a donation to support Pi, and you’ll be very glad you did. Hardest of all. Because you have to move beyond merely thinking and into doing.

Fundraising for Pi and educating people about Pi are two fundamentally different activities.


Please take note: Getting people to believe is not easier than explaining things to them. It’s much more difficult.

We do it because it’s necessary, not because it’s easy.

Anyone can easily learn that belief is enough and explanation is not useful for raising funds. So why is so much fundraising built on the assumption that donors need knowledge and facts in order to donate?

Because so many nonprofit leaders don’t understand fundraising.

Well, it’s worse than that. They don’t understand fundraising to the point that they refuse to read about it, ask questions about it, or even think about it. They just ignore it, and approach the whole fundraising enterprise the way to approach non-fundraising activities. You’d think their rational minds would be screaming NO at the sloppiness of that.

Even worse, any of us can fall to the temptation to explain instead of inspire. I know that because it happens to me. Sometimes while wrestling with a fundraising challenge, I discover a really cool, super-exciting way to explain the cause or the need. It’s so elegant and amazing that I’m blinded to the fact that it’s still an explanation, and not about belief.

So I run with it.

And I fail.

I’m pretty sure it happens to you too!

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That’s why I hope you’ll make belief is enough a sort of motto. A battle cry. A reminder. Because the enemy isn’t just our bosses and others from the Program Culture. It can be inside any of us.

Your job and mine is to spread the word that fundraising is about belief, not explanation.

We do that by learning how that plays out for our specific cause. By getting better and better at doing it. By learning from our mistakes. By finding proof we can share with others.

It’s hard, and for many of us a steep up-hill fight. But keep up the good fight. It is well worth it.

Belief is enough!

Want help making belief is enough a living reality in your heart and mind? Join The Fundraisingology Lab. You’ll get an amazing array of courses, cheat-sheets, templates, and other resources. You’ll also have access to our Facebook community where fellow fundraisers like you are working to make belief is enough the center of their fundraising.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Denise McMillan-Hall
    July 9, 2020 9:58 am

    Great message! As a seasoned “business executive ‘ relatively new to the world of NFP fundraising it is hard to ‘let go’ of the rational economic thinking instilled over 20 years of l business practice…. but everyday i see that this works in my new NFP world. Blending the two is proving to be equal parts challenging and satisfying. But behind that sentiment lies a common truth… Know what your audience values and you are on the right path to achieving your goals.

  • Jeff, I am blown away reading the post today! Thank you so much for taking the time to expand on the topic and share with your readership. This is such an important concept for those of us in the sector to grapple with and your added insights are greatly appreciated!

    • Christiana Stergiou
      August 10, 2020 11:30 am

      Thanks so much Wendy, for the inspiration for this blog! It’s been so helpful to so many people 😀

  • Love this post Jeff and thank you for sharing this insight. So true and so helpful!


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