Tin Cup and the Lottery Ticket

November 26, 2008

Posted in Fundraising.

There are two fundraising models that don’t work, but seem to be immensely popular:

The tin cup and the lottery ticket.

The Tin Cup

The tin cup is the beggar who bangs on doors and asks for money. Until it became illegal, the firemen would stand at the intersection, holding a bucket, and asking people for change. Or they call everyone in the phone book and they don’t care about the do-not-call list.

The problem? You’re asking lots of people who don’t care about you to give. It’s like spamming the world: it might work in volume, but it’s a battle of escalation that requires more and more resources to get what you need. And you start from scratch every time, so it’s not terribly predictable.

The Lottery Ticket

The lottery ticket is the long shot that should solve all your problems. Organizations put all their chips on one color or one lottery ticket and hope that they win. They put all of their resources into applying for a huge grant, which is always highly competitive. Or they send letters to rich people asking for large donations.

The problem? Wealthy grant-making organizations and rich people are big targets: everyone wants their money. Not only are the competitive, but they create foundations and processes intended to narrow down to the best choice. It’s harder to make a personal connection because they have layers of bureaucracy to keep desperate organizations at arm’s length.

The Successful Model

There are lots of “models” that promise results. They could all work, but the best ones have something in common:

Relationships. Slow, steady, and sustainable. Ask the right people. It’s not easy, but it’s a LOT more likely to get you where you need in the long run.

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