It is probably a good thing that new books, by new authors, are occasionally written on practical subjects.
The characteristic vice of such books is to offer discoveries (in the case of this book “new realities”) which, while they may represent epiphanies for the author, are in reality updated versions of age-old wisdom that has been practiced by professionals for years.
The old subject here is fund raising. The author is Terry Axelrod.
Crack open Si Seymour’s seminal fund- raising book from the 1960s, Designs for Fund Raising: Principles-Patterns-Techniques, and, except for some changes promoted by new technology, you will discover much of the same advice about building donor relationships that Axelrod claims as new.
Some of the strategies used in Raising More Money actually go back to Benjamin Franklin’s writings on fund raising. Nor should this come as a surprise. For while there is a continually developing science to fund raising, the art of building meaningful relationships with an individual donor or program officer implicates human nature and therefore changes little over time.
Seasoned fund raising professionals will tire of reading claims about the “new reality,” such as: “In the new reality, by the time you are ready to ask a donor for a gift, the donor is ready to be asked,” (this is Fund Raising 101.) Axelrod’s stress on the need for an “emotional hook” also sounds suspiciously like what many call a good articulation of the mission and case statement.
Her generalization that “cultivating life-long donors” has not been a “priority” will surprise most of us who have been doing just that for decades. Her suggestion that the “way to prepare yourself for an Ask is to do just that, prepare” is sound—but positively ancient—advice. Some of Axelrod’s insights veer perilously close to being bromides, as where she articulates the “golden rule” of working with boards and volunteers: “Treat them only as you would want to be treated.”
This book does, however, serve a useful purpose: it updates and brings needed visibility to some sound fund-raising principles and practices. Her enthusiasm, judgments, and respect for the profession are welcome and should be heard.
Indeed, once one gets past the mistaken notion that there is anything new here, there is much to like about this book, including kernels of advice and management techniques to help instruct new professionals and keep an established development office on track.
While there is room for disagreement with her claim that fund raising is 90 percent science and 10 percent art (I would make it 40 percent science and 60 percent art), I do agree with her thoughts on the new type of younger donor, her insights on new cultivation strategies, her appraisal of the growing importance of online fund raising, and her recommendations on management and discipline.
Her advice about basing fundraising on the positive future of an organization and the need to avoid “distress” fund raising is right on target; her warning that the future of fund raising is with individual donors rather than institutional donors is 20-year-old advice, but worth repeating; the insights she seems to have gleaned from Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko’s book The Millionaire Next Door in helping to identify potential donors are useful; and the organizational and management techniques she brings to the science of fund raising through her “point of entry” system promise to provide new and old fund raisers alike a sense of discipline and focus in their prospect identification, cultivation, and solicitation programs.
New fundraising professionals may want to read Si Seymour’s book first, then this one. Seasoned professionals should look elsewhere.
Jeffrey Bishop is vice president for college advancement at St. John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland.