Education vs fundraising: What are you doing?

That’s not at all what works in teaching!

That’s what a board member, a teacher, observed after a presentation on fundraising best practices.

They were completely correct. The things you do in successful fundraising have almost nothing with the things you do in successful teaching.

Unfortunately, the board member was not intending to underscore the central point of the presentation — that fundraising is different from other types of discourse. They meant two things:

  1. That the odd practices of fundraising would fall spectacularly flat if you tried to apply them in education. (True.)
  2. Therefore, it will fall flat in fundraising too. (Not true, and not supportable by facts.)

Let’s turn the situation around in a thought experiment. Imagine you need to teach a group of teenagers about trigonometry, and you were required to do it like this:

  • Send them a letter in the mail a few times a year.
  • Make sure the message is primarily emotional.
  • Use old-fashioned design

One thing that works in both fundraising and teaching is repetition.

Otherwise, our direct-mail-to-teach-trig experiment would clearly be a big mess.

We could do the same reversal thought experiment with any of the activities that are sometimes conflated with fundraising and get similar outcome: investment proposals, commercial marketing, scientific reporting, debate, public relations …

Each of those areas has its own conventions and assumptions. In some cases, they do things fundraisers can learn from.

But fundraising is fundraising.

If you want to succeed, start with the valuable information we already have about what works.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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