Contact Us

Fundraising As Both Science and Art

By Chris Scroggin, Petrus Consultant

Have you ever wondered what art and science have in common? 

Art draws on emotions.

Science uses rational thought.

But, science and art both demand creativity and excellent observational skills

Most techniques used by artists even have interesting scientific explanations. 


Let’s take the example of frescos! 

Frescos involve not only the artistic creativity of the master artist, but the science behind the technique, chemistry, water, saturation, and absorption. The artist must be proficient in both the science and the art. 


A mixture of water and colorful particles called pigments are applied onto wet plaster, which absorbs the water carrying the pigments. Then the water evaporates, the plaster sets, and the pigments become a part of the wall—a fresco is born!


Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos are some of the most recognizable and beloved in the world. He devoted several years to its completion. 


Without a doubt, Michelangelo was an artist of incomparable talent and artistic prowess. His creativity in transforming a plain blue ceiling of gold stars into the story of creation and salvation history is unrivaled. 


At the same time, Michelangelo knew the science behind fresco painting. He mastered it in order to execute the Chapel ceiling, and then also the Last Judgment scene above the altar. 


It was a combination of both the science and the art of fresco painting that enabled him to accomplish this masterpiece.


Just like fresco painting, fundraising is both a science and an art!   A great fundraiser is able to command both aspects of this to grow an organization’s development program. 


The Science and Art of Fundraising

No matter how good you are at the art of fundraising, you won’t truly be successful unless you are good at the science of fundraising as well. 


As a young major gift officer, I enjoyed the art of fundraising, because I loved getting to know people, hearing their stories, sharing the Faith, and so on. This came very naturally to me. Afterall, I am a “people person.”


Nevertheless, the science part, the organization, the planning, the goals, the reports, and the moves management - I wasn’t so great at just yet. I had a lot of growing and learning to do. 


At times, my actions didn’t match my heart, and as a result, more often than I cared to admit, I was treating my donors as sources of cash instead of partners.


Fortunately, I had an excellent mentor who sat me down and showed me that a balance of data-driven, structured, systematic relational fundraising was the science I needed to blend with the art of building and managing relationships


Here are a few of the steps he recommended to improve at the science:

  1. Analyze organizational data. Your organization has data on your donors’ behavior, their giving, retention, interests, relationships, and more. These areas of opportunity will help you understand where your fundraising program stands now, and help you project forward for the future. 
  2. Qualify Donors. A qualification process ensures that you only add donors to your pipeline who want to relate to you and your organization. (Access our free resourse on donor qualification at the end of this article.)
  3. Identify a donor’s passion or interests. Discover what it is about your organization that truly speaks to each donor’s heart. This allows you to then connect their interests to the work you do. 
  4. Tier Donors. You can’t spend equal time with all the donors and prospects in your database, so tier them 1-3 to help focus your planning and time effectively. 
  5. Determine your revenue goals. Review the donors’ contribution histories over the last four years. Add in what you know about them, determine their capacity, and project a 12-month goal for each individual donor. 
  6. Build a plan for each donor. Create a strategy to serve each donor’s passions and interests with a 12-month touch point plan.
  7. Create donor offers. Create program offers you can share with donors that include the meaningful story and impact along with the total cost (including overhead) for each program. 


As you can imagine, putting this system and structure to my major gift efforts was a game changer for me. I consider this the power of the science of fundraising. 


Because each donor is qualified, you’re no longer chasing donors who never respond, which gives you more time to focus on those who will. You are in two-way conversation with every donor in your pipeline, so you can actually utilize the art of fundraising effectively to build real partnerships.


You know your plan for each donor and can easily pivot and be creative as you learn more about their needs and interests. With a plan, you don’t forget to follow up and tell them they are making a difference, or thank them properly, or cultivate them with new information before you ask for a gift.


This moves the relationship from transactional to relational, where your talents for the art of fundraising can thrive.


Now like Michelangelo, you too, can combine art and science to create something lasting and meaningful for your organization for years to come.


Are you looking for ways to improve your donor qualification process?

 If so, check out our free donor qualification worksheet!   The worksheet will walk you step-by-step through the process of qualifying donors so that you're effectively using time and resources in your discovery of major donor prospects..  

Access the free PDF here >>


Sign up below to receive tools, ideas, and inspiration to take your development efforts to the next level.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.