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Entrepreneurial Fundraising

The Development function is to Non-profits/Charities (NP) what the Sales and Marketing functions are to private sector firms – they focus on growing the top line. Funding streams created through innovative approaches like social enterprise models can enable NPs to reduce their dependency – by not having all of their funding eggs in one basket. Over the longer term, these alternative revenue channels can also enable NPs to build their brand strength within the communities they serve as well as scale their social impact.

For most NPs however, the shift away from traditional approaches like annual fundraisers, takes them out of their comfort zone. Ironically most will also admit that, against the common backdrop of inadequate human resources or funding, they act in entrepreneurial ways on a daily basis!

This article by Kathryn Babcock highlights some easy strategies for moving beyond the traditional fundraising comfort zone and positioning your organization for some top line growth!

Entrepreneurial fundraising

We live in a time of almost unlimited fundraising opportunities.  This exists alongside a race-against-the-clock urgency that these opportunities be pursued with full entrepreneurial fervour.

Yet, however much it is that we currently raise, the status quo still finds the world troubled by poverty, violence, sickness, oppression and environmental degradation.  We need to raise more. We need to harness entrepreneurial thinking to catapult our fundraising efforts.

Entrepreneurship: “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.[1]

By this definition almost every charity in the world was born entrepreneurial – with a vision that outstripped the human and financial resources that were currently on hand.  Whether a charity was established two months ago or 200 years ago, it started with the identification of an opportunity to make the world better. As fundraisers we are the servants of this opportunity – we are the conductors of the financial resources that make this vision of a better world possible.

There are an ever-increasing number of social entrepreneurs and charities looking for new solutions to address intractable problems. Social entrepreneurs are defined as “individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems.”[2]

These individuals are characterized as “ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.” [3]  It is a great thing that new solutions are in hand, or are at least at the stage of being readily imagined. How dreadful it would be if we had no idea how to make things better. But we do. Our organizations are being called to step-up to have greater impact; to articulate new visions that well outstrip the resources currently controlled. As the experts in finding the resources for this work, we need to keep pace and step-up to our entrepreneurial best.

Our job as fundraisers is to relentlessly pursue opportunities with the boldness born of the vision we serve. Here are two concepts that may help to cultivate your “inner fundraising entrepreneur.”

“Selling” a product for which there is unlimited demand

As fundraisers we are ultimately in the business of happiness – we are the conduit for increasing the happiness of the less-advantaged and making the people, who come on board to do so, feel really happy!

We “sell” happiness in two ways:

  1. By making the case that the charitable donation will ultimately result in increased happiness for the end recipient—whether it is by providing clean water, building a community centre, providing free jazz lessons to inner-city schools, providing shelter for an abused woman, finding a cure for childhood leukemia or protecting endangered species.
  2. By increasing the happiness of the donor through their experience of having made the donation. This comes both through the self-actualization of the donor making the gift (their feelings of being part of something greater than themselves, and the experience of being altruistic) and their experience of our gratitude as the charity who has received their gift.

Generosity is the road to happiness. As fundraisers, we have the map and just the right vehicle to suggest!


  • Review your Case for Support to ensure that it brings to life the happiness that your charity is in the business of creating. For example, if you are working on behalf of children with disabilities – describe the joy the child experiences when they take their first steps and the emotional experience of the parents watching them do so.  Test out the case with prospective donors. Ask the question: Does the happiness that we are bringing to our clients come through in our messaging? Keep revising it until it does!

Boldness moves mountains

The vision of your organization needs to be compelling enough to dwarf any trepidation.

You need to be convinced that your charity is doing something of paramount importance (ideally the most important thing you can possibly imagine). The motivation for someone to give is the same as your motivation to ask: so that the donor can be part of creating a compelling change in the world.

In Jim Collins’ extraordinary book, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, he quotes a social sector leader: “I am motivated first and always for the greatness of our work, not myself.”[4]  In other words, you must be convinced of the greatness of the work that your fundraising effort will support and translate this into your Case for Support.

Once we have a persuasive and passionate Case for Support, and have researched the prospect, we need to be bold in our ask. This does not mean that there is always an absence of fear. Sometimes there is a lot on the line and rejection can be intimidating. But, as fundraisers, we have agreed to step out of our comfort zone in the service of a vision greater than ourselves.


  • Before you approach a donor ask: What would I ask for if I knew that success was guaranteed?

Tory Burch, a renowned entrepreneur, captured the essence of entrepreneurial fundraising in a recent speech where she said, “Being an entrepreneur is a state of mind. It’s about seeing connections others can’t, seizing opportunities others won’t, and forging new directions that others haven’t.” [5] Nothing less than the healing of the world rests on our collective ability as fundraisers to cultivate this way of working.

A specialist in both grassroots fundraising and multi-million dollar corporate partnerships, Kathryn Babcock has honed an entrepreneurial approach that leverages assets and opportunities. Through cultivating an entrepreneurial fundraising mindset, Kathryn helped catapult the Canadian Women’s Foundation to become of one of the largest women’s foundations in the world. This article is excerpted from Kathryn’s chapter on “Entrepreneurial Fundraising” in Excellence in Fundraising, Volume Two, edited by Guy Mallabone. 

[1]   Eric Shurenberg. http://www.inc.com/eric-schurenberg/the-best-definition-of-entepreneurship.html
Cites the widely-regarded definition Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson, D.B.A., first coined in 1975.

[2]   Ashoka Innovators for the Public. https://www.ashoka.org/social_entrepreneur

[3]   Ibid.

[4] Jim Collins. (2005). Good To Great and the Social Sectors. p 11.

[5]   Tory Burch commencement address at Babson College. (2014).

This article by Kathryn Babcock was previously published in Hilborn Charity eNEWS on March 30, 2016 and is linked to the ASSOCIUM Newsletter with permission from the publisher.

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