Community members coming together Photo by Theo Rigby

Learning Out Loud

What will it take to break out of chronic fundraising challenges?

Fundraising is critical to the success of every nonprofit, yet it's often also one of the biggest challenges an organization can face.

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This country needs a nonprofit sector that is vibrant and robust. Yet too many nonprofits struggle year in and year out to raise funds. The fundraising challenges they face are well documented. We know this because we documented many of them ourselves when the Haas, Jr. Fund joined with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in 2013 to issue a national report on the subject, UnderDeveloped.

Judging from the social media and personal responses we received in the months after the release of that report, it seems to have hit a nerve.

From Understanding Fundraising Challenges to Finding Solutions

So what now? If virtually everyone agrees about the problems, how can we move past that conversation and start focusing on solutions? These are questions we’ve been asking ourselves at the Haas, Jr. Fund, and this year we’re launching a new initiative aimed at finding answers.

We want to surface new insights about how to move to action on key issues facing the sector, with particular interest in helping small- to medium-sized social change organizations. Ultimately, we hope to help our grantees, and other organizations like them, access the best resources and thinking in fund development. And we want to identify gaps that may need to be filled when it comes to helping nonprofits break out of chronic fundraising challenges.

Three Key Areas

To begin, we’ve engaged a terrific team of respected and creative experts to help us forge solutions in three key areas:

  • Cynthia Gibson, noted consultant and blogger on nonprofit trends, is helping examine what it means to build a “culture of philanthropy” within nonprofits. Everyone says creating such a culture is important, but what does it really mean and how do you know when you have it?
  • Christine Sherry, a consultant to nonprofits and donors, is leading an effort aimed at assessing training opportunities for development directors. Among the focal points of Christine’s work: mapping the current landscape of fundraising trainings against the core competencies and skills that development directors need to do their jobs.
  • Jeanne Bell and her team at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, have joined forces with a team led by top fundraising experts Stephanie Roth and Kim Klein to unpack what’s special about social change organizations that are uniquely successful at bringing in individual donors. In other words, what can we learn from these “bright spots”? (Read Jeanne Bell’s blog post about fundraising bright spots and contribute to the research here)

We are bringing these teams together on a regular basis because we hope the intersection in their work will spark new insights. Our hope is that each stream of work will feed the others, and that collectively we will do better, smarter work as we push and prod each other for answers.

Not Your Traditional R & D

Now we hope to expand the conversation even further by engaging others in a search for solutions to chronic fundraising challenges by “learning out loud” as we go rather than waiting to issue a traditional report at the end. We want to share the questions we are grappling with in real time and to connect with others who are asking similar questions or who may have answers.
That’s why we are creating this “solutions space.” This is where we will be sharing the team’s latest insights and findings in the weeks and months ahead.

And we hope to hear from you about what you see as promising approaches and solutions, as well as ideas and insights that can lead to lasting change.

This isn’t just an intellectual inquiry. Strengthening nonprofit organizations’ ability to raise the resources they need to thrive and achieve their goals is the most critical challenge facing the sector today. Please stay tuned to this space for more information and ideas, as well as opportunities to be a part of what we hope will be a lively and productive dialogue focused squarely on solutions.