The Difference Between Fundraising and Development

Fundraising. Resource Development. It’s the same thing, right? Or is it?

Many people use these terms interchangeably, but I think there’s a significant difference, especially for folks working in a small shop. When you’re overworked and maybe overwhelmed, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of raising money. You need the dollars, right? Gotta make budget, right? Programs can’t be delivered without funds, right?

Right, right, and right.

Except that sometimes it’s wrong to focus just on the dollars. Consider these situations:

Case A: The executive director of a small nonprofit is responsible for everything — administration, fundraising, supporting the board, and overseeing operations. The organization hosts a variety of small fundraising events throughout the year, which generate a considerable amount of publicity and attract lots of people through ticket sales.

Case B: A regional nonprofit produces a very popular 5K race that is highly anticipated each year among area runners. A local restaurant is the main sponsor and provides a lavish picnic at the end of the race to all the runners.

Case C: A well-known and respected local organization sends out an annual direct-mail piece in the fall. The appeal brings in a small amount of money, which goes directly toward the bottom line of its annual fundraising campaign.

This all sounds good right?

Except that it’s not. In each of these cases, money is being raised. But that’s about it. None of these activities are sustainable they way they are. None are being leveraged to their capacity. And there are problems that need to be addressed.

Here’s the rest of the story.
Case A: This organization has gotten itself on the special event hamster wheel. In the absence of knowledge, the board focuses on events. That’s all the members know how to do so that’s what they do. And while the community supports each of the small events, many people consider their ticket purchase as their “gift” to the organization, which leaves no room for individual donor development. And frankly, some people in the community are getting tired of all the events (not to mention how tired the staff and volunteers are from working them!).

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  • Bert Rankin

    Given I am launching 4 large scale special fundraising events for my non-profit public television station before year end, I am constantly reminded about the need to focus resources and time on donor cultivation and not just event execution. Great and timely article!

  • Dianne Sikel

    Its going to be a success if the focus is always about the people and the relationship.
    Great article

  • Robert Wishner

    Excellent and very well said. The man who wears many hats at Swats