Many Streams Make a River: Fundraising for Everyone

Many Streams Make a River: Fundraising for Everyone

Many streams make a river; fundraising for everyone is a mindset that creates abundant money flow in organizations, just like this waterfall flowing into a river.

Many streams make a river: fundraising for everyone is a mindset that creates abundant money flow in organizations. Photo by Marissa Shaver Photography. Used with permission.


Many Streams Make a River: Fundraising for Everyone

I’m back on the road again, giving fundraising training! It feels good to teach fundraising for everyone, and do it face-to-face.

I am grateful to be working for the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. I  love and admire what they do and who they are.

So now, I get to help their people–Board and staff–understand that many streams make a river: fundraising for everyone is the mindset that creates the powerful waterfall of abundant money flow we are looking for.

Financial Flow vs. Dependency

In nonprofit organizations, what doesn’t create abundant money flow is when we look outside ourselves for someone else to “fix it,” or rescue us, or fund everything.

When everyone in an organization–Board and staff–understand how they contribute to fundraising in their unique roles, and when they do their part and make their contribution, each of those separate streams becomes an unstoppable flow.

When an organization is financially independent of any one source, it becomes self-sufficient and abundant.

Size does not matter. Wealth does not matter. What matters is being fierce with the truth of our finances (expenses and income), and being responsible for them both. This is the same kind of financial fierceness I write about individuals having, only in this case, it applies to organizations. Fundraising is truly for everyone.

Curious how this is so? Read on.


I only work with organizations and people whose aims I support. That sounds funny, like it should be obvious, but there are people who compromise, and I don’t.

RAISING CLARITY’s reason for being is to help people realize their aims.

So before I choose to work with a new soul-colleague, I always ask myself: do I support their aims? Do I want my energies to team with theirs to achieve them?

It’s a lot like the waterfall: do I want my stream to join theirs? Do I want to build their waterfall? If I can say “yes,” I plunge in!

All In

In this case, yes, I do! The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is a stance on labor. It’s a place—right in the heart of the Mine Wars, Matewan, West Virginia. It’s right inside the United Mine Workers of America building, in fact.

But it’s also a space to learn and reflect on working itself. What is our work worth? So many people throughout time have stolen our labor. So many people throughout time have had our labor stolen. The Museum commemorates the right to stand up for our rights. Miners were criminalized and killed for refusing what amounted to indentured servitude. The history of our country is not a pretty history at so many levels, and this is one.

Here, it is ok to be a worker and proud. It is ok to be against racism and sexism: the labor celebrated here is cross-racial, and cross-gender.

Classism Keeps Us from Being Powerful

And as fundraisers, if we are wise, we are also against classism. I mean the assumption this or that person “doesn’t have any money,” and thus shouldn’t be asked for support. Let them make that decision!

There is another pernicious assumption regarding class in the other direction, the direction of wealth. Many people are afraid to be “out” about having wealth. There’s a stereotype about owning-class people, too–that they won’t support working-class people and causes.

We can all unlearn the class affiliations we were born into.

Cross-class solidarity builds the Beloved Community too.

One of my favorite published articles was written to help people fundraise who grew up with little money so that feel just fine about asking people with a lot more money to give some of their money for a cause of mutual importance.

This can be hard. It can take unlearning our old sense of entitlement and “growing” a new one.

My article describes a few quick ways to do that. I’ve been training for many years. Now, when I do training, I spend a chunk of time addressing psychological barriers to fundraising like these.

What matters in fundraising is what matters in life: being able to ask for support and detach from the response, with compassion for the other person, who is surely even less comfortable with money than you are! Hard to believe, but true: think about when you have been asked directly to give money. Wasn’t it uncomfortable?

If not, great! You should be a fundraiser! You’re a step ahead because you don’t have to unlearn anything. You have what it takes.

What Do I Teach?

What will I teach in the training this weekend? Well, the easiest way to show you at a distance, in writing, is to give you my handouts:

Relationship is Abundance

We change the world through the relationships we cultivate with others. Organizing is one way of building relationships.

Energy flows through relationship.

Solidarity and compassion flow through relationship.

Where humans have created problems for other humans, what flows through relationships can solve those problems.

We have to be open to relationship, and to allow support to flow to us and from us.

Print vs. Practice!

That’s almost everything in my packet of handouts. A very, very small amount of printed information. They’re smart to have me come work with them face-to-face. Humans learn best that way.

The basics of asking people for money are very very simple. I’ll teach them. And then—we’ll practice!

We’ll practice once, talk about how it went and how it felt, and then practice again. And debrief again. They’ll pair up and do this.

There is nothing like practicing the words coming out of your mouth, “I’d like you to consider a gift of $10,000” to normalize those words. To make them feel comfortable and normal. We don’t grow up fundraising or wanting to be fundraisers, most of us. We have to learn it, and unlearn all that stands in the way of it.

I used to offer voluminous packets of printed material in my handouts for fundraising trainings. But the more words on the page vying for the reader’s attention, the less the reader can pay attention to each word. So now my handouts contain just the essentials. I can always share my recommendations for an article addressing this question or that problem later. I make myself available and I know the literature well.

But all the research and printed information in the world will not replace experience.

Experience is Embodied Knowledge

And that’s when we become skilled, confident fundraisers, when we have that embodied knowledge we get through supportive practicing and discussion.

No one is a perfect fundraiser. Everyone is potentially a perfect fundraiser in their own way once they learn how to do it and make it their own. There’s also a difference between Board fundraising and the roles of different staff in fundraising.

The important thing is, again, relationship-building on behalf of our cause or organization or project.

What is Success?

Success isn’t always even an immediate “yes.”

Sometimes it’s an “I don’t know” that we are wise to respect.

It’s following up.

It’s giving a potential donor a volunteer job, and then asking them again for support.

It’s giving them space—but always, asking again, unless they have said not only “no” but “please don’t ask me again.” Which is very unlikely, since they’ve allowed you to ask them directly once already.

What Looks Like Success But Isn’t, Long-Term

In most folks’ eyes, success is when foundations provide most of the funding.

FYI: that’s risky, and causes us to depend on people other than ourselves to keep our organizations going. Only people who don’t know how to fundraise in other ways would do that. Only people who aren’t fierce with their own power and responsibility would do it.

Over the long term, dependence on foundations (or a single wealthy individual) can really limit our organizations’ success. Here’s why.

Foundations have their own concerns. Some years, their concerns mesh with ours. Some years, they don’t. Are we going to let our organizations go under because a foundation changes its priorities? Their funding our cause is not their job. It’s ours.

The Purpose of Foundation Funding

Foundation grants are a lovely start-up and new project support. They are never meant to be long-term support.

So we need to supplement the foundation grants with individuals’ gifts–of all sizes, large, medium, and small–until we are financially independent of foundation grants. And then use them for starting new projects.

There are so many ways to do this. They all involve a human asking other humans for money.

The Purpose of Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is one of the easiest ways to do this—and the least effective. It works beautifully! But for the effort it takes us to set up and implement and sustain a crowdfunding campaign, we could ask people for money directly, and receive it from at least half of them, and be done with it.

Fundraising is for the Long Term

On the other hand…do we want to “be done with it”? Fundraising, like organizing, like developing a nonprofit or start-up or any sort of project, is a long-term thing. Over time, it is normal to lose some of our donors. So we don’t want to be “done with it.” We always want to be doing it, planning for more of it, thinking about it. It’s part of thriving.

Crowdfunding is really effective at making it easy to share our work and our fundraising with new people we don’t know yet. It helps our timidity become a bit braver because all we have to do is share a link to the crowdfunding campaign and invite someone to give. So simple! We don’t have to really ask directly.

As long as we remember that the single most statistically effective way to raise money is to ask for it directly, crowdfunding is great—and it builds our donor base. Meaning: we can ask everyone who gave to our crowdfunding campaign this month directly for a new gift in some months’ time. And about half the time, they will say yes.

So Now You Know

The above are the things I plan to discuss in the fundraising training.

Always Learning

The other thing that will happen? I will learn. I always learn from the people I train.

I learn what is considered culturally appropriate in fundraising in that region.

I learn that people are already better at asking than I (or they) realized.

I learn what works and doesn’t work in my training and how to streamline, and improve it.

Contacting Me for More

If you reading this want me to train your people in fundraising, contact me using this form. Remember what I said about integrity above, and be sure to tell me about your aims!

On the other hand, there are too many good causes in this world for me to train everyone connected with them!

So I’m writing this post (among others, and here’s an overview) to you and yours to share the wealth—the wealth of what I know about how we raise, and reach, and raise again the wealth we need to heal this world we’re in. Together.

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