How effective fundraising parallels business (Hint: it earned trust and a multimillion-dollar endowment)

Last week, the Kilgore College Foundation announced a $3.5 million estate gift for its world-renowned Rangerettes. As Chief Development Officer at the school, I’m proud of the part I play in ongoing philanthropic opportunities that support student success at KC—but that’s not what this article is about.

The endowment is one of the largest gifts in the school’s history. It will provide scholarships for future generations of young ladies who have earned the lauded title of “Rangerette” and meet certain academic criteria. The gift also provides scholarships for Rangerette managers, a support team also made up of KC students. But this article isn’t about the money, either.

It’s about reflecting on how simple tools have dramatically changed the slope of the fundraising curve—sending it up and to the right.

I write extensively about these simple tools in my book, Live from Cupertino: How Apple Used Words, Music, and Performance to Build the World’s Best Sales Machine. These tools built Apple, where I spent 22 years before my transition into fundraising.

But Apple is a business, you might be thinking. What does that have to do with fundraising?

People usually say fundraising isn’t a business. But that sentiment is where fundraisers go wrong.

While fundraisers don’t do sales, we do sell ideas through engagement. And while we don’t have a sales quota, we do all have institutional needs and fundraising goals. In addition to selling our organization, we are selling the idea of support and maintaining personal relationships, just like salespeople do.

A 2018 Harvard Business Review article by Kevin Barenblat on nonprofit strategy had a clear message: “The most successful nonprofits think of fundraising like sales.”

So, what tools do we as fundraisers focus on that parallel business tools?

Pipeline, cultivation, and relationships are the keys to fundraising success. They parallel the business tools of words, music, and performance.

  • Pipeline is built through your initial words, as you only have one chance to make a first impression.
  • Cultivation is in a sense the art of making music, as you pull all the disparate parts together into a melody.
  • Performance is the hard work of a relationship, which is continual and requires you to always be on. You cannot have a bad performance when you’re building a relationship.

So, as you get out there and start building that pipeline to ensure future dollars for your organization, be sure to tune your words, cultivate a musical score, and maintain the highest standards in your performance.

Remember, as fundraisers, we do it all for the people we serve. How can incorporating these business tools help move your fundraising curve up and to the right?

UPDATE because you asked: At Kilgore, we are continually building a donor-centric organization that leverages technology created exclusively for our needs. This tech liberates time for pipeline building, cultivation, and relationship building. As a side note, our tech development uses a business Agile MVP model, which allows us to rapidly breakthrough bureaucracy and provide lower-cost solutions.

In Live from Cupertino: How Apple Used Words, Music, and Performance to Build the World’s Best Sales Machine, I reveal the secrets behind Apple’s trillion-dollar success. (As it turns out, contrary to popular belief, their products don’t sell themselves.) Get your copy here or your favorite place books are sold.


Photo Credit: Kilgore College Marketing, Jamie Maldonado; Ken Raney, President, Kilgore College Foundation; Rangerette Officers