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Aristotle codified it but many have said: all human actions are done for the sake of some end. A valuable principle in life, this can help our fundraising, too.

If you’ve ever studied philosophy, you know that all human actions are done purposefully or for some end or goal.

If you’ve never studied philosophy—but you’ve ever made a decision as a free person—you know that all human actions are done purposefully or for some end or goal. You may not have stopped to think about it or formulate that thought quite that way, but if you do pause and think about your actions, you’ll see that this is clearly the case. Have you ever tried to do anything well? Then you know at least implicitly that this is the case: that is, you’ve acted intentionally in pursuit of some end or goal.

So all human actions are purposeful, which is to say “done for the sake of some end or goal.” There are also good actions and bad actions. Actions can be good and bad in various ways, such as whether the end-goal is good (feeding the poor) or bad (robbing a bank). Another key factor in judging whether an action is good is how effectively that action pursues its end-goal.

Take an example. Say you want to learn French and so you binge watch French TV. That’s not a good action because it ineffectively works toward your goal of learning French. If, on the other hand, you schedule 30 minutes each day to work through a French language program and then practice speaking with a friend—that would be a good action, as it is conducive to your goal.


I suggested above that you don’t need to study philosophy to know this principle. That’s true, but one benefit of studying philosophy is learning the habits or practices that help you identify good ends and then pursue them well. At least, that’s the goals—it’s not often well done.

Plato said that all of philosophy is preparation for death.

There’s much to be said to make sense of that insight, and books aplenty have been written unpacking it—but for one thing, he’s suggesting that philosophy is about identifying those things that make for a good and happy life, and then developing the habits to realize that. In other words, it’s about correctly identifying good goals and then pursuing them well.

What does this have to do with fundraising?

These same principles for happiness in life will foster “happiness” in fundraising. Just as we consider what makes a good human action, so we should ask what makes a good fundraising action. And the two criteria I mentioned above are the key criteria in fundraising, too:

  • Is this a good goal? That is, does it fit with our mission and vision, or is it a distraction from what we are ultimately trying to achieve?
  • Is this a good way to achieve that goal? That is, is this the best way to arrive at that goal, or will this be ineffective or fail to realize the goal?


In an earlier article on digital marketing, Kellie de Leon encouraged fundraisers to “get crystal clear on your objectives.” Before acting, before launching a marketing or communications campaign, ask the relevant questions to identify precisely what it is you want to achieve. Then, with a clearly defined goal in mind, you can create the plans to get there.

Kellie was making the point with regard to a digital marketing campaign, but it applies across all areas of fundraising—because it applies across all areas of human activity. Whether you’re doing digital fundraising or major gifts, running an event or writing a grant proposal—you need to determine what precisely you are trying to achieve.

This work of “getting clear on your objectives” will separate good fundraisers and organizations from bad, just as it separates good persons from bad.


As we have said since the beginning of this pandemic: coronavirus and its social and economic effects do not change the fundamentals of fundraising. Your strategy, therefore, is unlikely to need major adjustments to respond to the pandemic—but it is likely that your tactics will need to be adjusted to the new environment.

As you navigate this new and unprecedented environment, hold fast to this rule—that all actions are done for the sake of some goal, and that good actions are done well for the sake of a good goal. Get yourselves clear on your goals and just as clear on how you’ll achieve them. Don’t cast about blindly, hoping for fundraising success but without taking the steps to get there.

The happiest people you know are probably those that are thoughtful about how to live and be well. Similarly, the best fundraisers will be thoughtful that every action they undertake is crystal clear on its goals and how they will get there.

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