Navigating the fundraising priority maze

Fundraising Priority MazeIf you have worked with a nonprofit you may have experience getting lost in what we call the “fundraising priority maze.” Here’s what it looks like.

You know you need to raise money for your organization. Everybody else has a different idea about how much money is needed and how the funds will be used. You – as an executive director, college president, or fundraising professional feel as if you are encountering dead ends and detours when trying to accomplish what you believe is a simple task.  That task: define the organization’s priorities.

Priorities – and the funds required to advance these – are at the core of an organization’s very existence. They are also at the core of the fundraising case for support. If you are not familiar with what a case for support is, we offer this short description: it is a document that defines your organization’s mission, vision, priorities, and funding required to make an impact. There’s more to it than that, but as you can see priorities and the allocation of funds are at the core.

As you define your organization’s priorities and the funding required you may find yourself entering the fundraising priorities maze. A common point of entrance is a check of your strategic plan: are your fundraising priorities in line with the organization’s strategic priorities? Is your strategic plan up to date? As you check your plan you may enter further into the maze as you notice other aspects of your organization that may not be included in the plan. What do you do? Act? Pretend you never looked?

You enter the heart of the maze as you begin “navigating” board members, volunteer solicitors, staff, funders (foundations and government granting agencies), donors, and the organization’s chief financial officer.

As you share your priorities, you may feel that everyone has their own ideas and an “agenda” regarding what the organization’s money should be used for. Many will be persuasive in making their points. Some may thoughtfully examine your priorities and help you refine them. You’re going to have to figure out how to overcome objections, find your way around “roadblocks,” and build consensus so that when you begin fundraising everyone is on the same page.

Here is our suggestion for how to work your way through this maze. First take the time to “sell” your vision and goals to each constituency. If your priorities – and the related fundraising goals – are tied to the organization’s vision and goals you are one step closer to making your way through the maze.

But, as a leader you have to have an open mind, be willing to understand others’ priorities, and as appropriate accept and/or integrate the ideas of others. You will be wise to remember that not everyone wakes up in the morning knowing what your organization needs to raise money for and why. These conversations are the beginning of creating campaign awareness and consensus.

Bottom line: you may find yourself lost in the fundraising priority maze until you build consensus.

Copyright 2018 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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