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I recently contributed an article on fundraising to the National Forensic League's (NFL) Rostrum magazine. The piece is intended as practical advice for the thousands of volunteer coaches and staff who raise money for the 100,000 high school student debaters who belong to the League.

Nevertheless, the article is general and the relationship-building advice that it gives applies to all fundraising. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

Why do Americans give? Most say that the primary reason they give is because they were asked. This seemingly pedestrian insight is important. It underscores one of the truisms of fundraising, which states that people give to people, not to causes. The most successful fundraisers are those who absorb this insight and build relationships with their donors, treating them as human beings rather than as cash machines.

When donors give, they are investing in you and the cause that you represent: the student debaters, their ideas, their accomplishments, their dreams. A donor’s gift represents much more than a simple economic transaction; it is an investment in the future, speculation that through your mission their charitable purpose will be fulfilled.

Donors who feel connected to the organizations they support give more—and give more frequently. This is true not only of big-time philanthropists; it is true of donors on every rung of the giving ladder. If you build relationships with those who are likely to support your cause, the money will follow.

The primary challenge for you, then, is not to focus on raising money. No, your challenge is to present your debate team to your school, to your students’ parents, and to the broader community in a way that will engage them and draw them into your group’s activities, making them an integral part of the life of your organization. How can your supporters share the triumphs and setbacks of competitive debate? That is the overarching question that should animate your thoughts about fundraising.

The entire article is available here.  The NFL is a terrific organization and the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, where I serve as president, is a supporter of their work.

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