The Unfortunate Separation of Mission and Fundraising
Separating mission work from fundraising work is a deeply rooted practice in nonprofit. I challenge that. I challenge the idea that there is any scenario where a complete separation is necessary or more productive than collaboration. Here is a good illustration of what could be.
I was in church at a congregational meeting recently. It was ultimately about stewardship—how are we going to keep the doors open and work toward our mission? I thought I was at work for a moment. The meeting progressed, and it became more and more clear that my church’s problems were exactly the same as those of the typical national peer-to-peer income event manager:
- Mobilization to action
All of this ultimately funds our mission work. I was in the worst sort of quandary. I have no more time in my week, yet due to my work in peer-to-peer fundraising I was uniquely qualified to help. The problems my church is having are exactly what I am experienced at fixing.
I came home from that meeting, thumped my forehead on the countertop, and said to my husband, “I cannot do this. I just can’t fit any more stuff in my life.”
He looked at me and said, “Do it. You have to. You are uniquely prepared.”
I lifted my bruised forehead and said (to my Buddhist husband), “What, you’re on God’s team now?”
He stared back, irritatingly calm and Zen-like, “You already decided. You just haven’t accepted it. You wouldn’t have said that to me if you hadn’t decided.”
Having a Buddhist psychologist for a husband is sometimes a shortcut to a fuller understanding of one’s own behavior.
The next thing I knew, the preacher was at my house having coffee. We were discussing how to mobilize people to action. In the end, here’s where we landed:
- We’ll establish service opportunities that will help people acquire a self-label that they are connected to our church. How does this work? Different blog. These service opportunities will be varied—some prison work, some homeless work, some at-risk youth work, whatever it takes to get them to do something, anything with us. If we can get them to just associate with us and exhibit a behavior connoting affiliation, we can get them to take the next step, which is simply more association with us. It’s all wrapped up in self-perception, behavior leading to belief, and bias for consistency.
- Once they are associated with the church regarding their specific areas of interest, then we’ll escalate (my preacher has an excellent evil laugh that he does every time I say “escalate”).
- After a while, we know their affinities for their particular interests (prisoners, at-risk youth, hunger, whatever) will transfer to our church because they are serving with us, associating with us, being part of us.
That transference of affinity is a powerful and underestimated phenomenon, and is also well-documented. Per my Buddhist husband, also Turnkey’s psychological expert, Otis Fulton, “If social psychology has taught us anything during the last 25 years, it is that we are likely not only to think ourselves into a way of acting but also to act ourselves into a way of thinking. Humans are predisposed to seek group affiliation. Behavior on behalf of any group creates a powerful motivation to align one’s attitudes and beliefs with that of the group.”
And all of this makes me ask, why do nonprofits separate mission from fundraising? We may well be shooting ourselves in the feet to do so, though I know the organizational chart works a lot better that way, and measuring performance is for sure less messy if they are separate.
In the end, if someone will volunteer on the mission side with us, they will donate and fundraise if well-handled. Time to quit protecting our lists, siloing our information and pretending we have different jobs. We don’t.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.