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Fundraising is Like Raising a Baby by Andrew Robison


By Andrew N. Robison, Owner & President of Petrus


Have you ever thought about the similarities between babies and fundraising? Surely you have, right? Okay...maybe its just me, but let's play this out and see where it goes...


Building a development program is a lot like raising a newborn baby. It takes constant attention, your best-laid plans are constantly falling apart and every day your best efforts are greeted with cries of more, more, more. Its a thankless and exhausting process, but man...what a joy to see it grow and mature into something beautiful and fun to be around. 

Two and a half weeks ago, my wife gave birth to our fourth child. Elizabeth “Ellie” Ruth was born a day early but right on time...her time. You see, my wife was scheduled for a c-section at 7:30am on October 20 but Ellie had different plans. My wife’s water broke at 6:15am on October 19 so we were off to the hospital. Everything worked out and at 12:40pm, our perfect like 7lb 5oz bundle of joy came into the world and into our family. The other kids have welcomed her with open arms (well, maybe our two-year-old still just pretends that she doesn’t exist but he’s coming around) and just like that we are now a family of six. 

Back to my original point, raising a baby is tough and takes a lot of work. And is generally speaking a thankless task. Starting (or re-starting) a nonprofit development program is also tough and takes a lot of work. And in my experience, it can be easy to exist in a “what have you done for me today” relationship with the mission side of the organization. So how else are these two wildly different life events similar? Let’s see. 

Babies eat a lot...

It seems like every time you turn around, babies want to eat. Feed them and they are happy for maybe an hour or two...and then they want to eat more. Whether a baby is nursed or bottle-fed, it seems like they are never done eating. That whole “three squares a day” is definitely a learned behavior for literally every human because it definitely ain’t the case early on. And I’m not really sure what they need all that food for because they literally do nothing all day...okay, maybe they are growing and like, creating brain cells and muscles and stuff...but come on, do something already. 

Development offices also are in constant need of more fuel. A properly run development effort requires constant work and a constant influx of resources. They need money for mailings, database subscriptions, staff salaries, consultant fees, etc. They need time for writing, researching, phone calls, donor visits and presentations. And they need energy. So much energy. Picking up that phone to make cold calls can be one of the most mentally taxing things you do all day but you know it has to happen or else all of your development efforts can starve. Yes, development offices need to be constantly fed and letting your foot off the pedal for a month, a week or even a day can slow your progress and end you back in the lactation consultant’s office wondering why the heck there isn’t more progress...wait, I think I may have mixed things up. Oh well. On to the next bizarre analogy! 

Babies are exhausting...

In addition to simple sleep deprivation, raising a newborn is a lot of work. Even the best baby preppers in the world are going to be tired and worn out within a matter of days. Feeding around the clock, changing diapers, cleaning sheets, rocking them back to sleep, late-night supply runs to Target, doctors appointments, rocking them back to sleep again...it is a lot of work and can bring the most resilient parents to their knees. I remember our second kid WOULD NOT sleep unless someone was holding her and walking around. The second your rear touched the chair, she was up. It was uncanny. Talk about some long nights...

Development work is most definitely exhausting for some of the same reasons (but probably not the diaper reasons). It takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep things running. I know, I have been there. Sending the mailings, interviewing folks for the newsletter, processing checks, updating the website, filling out grant applications, sending thank you notes, coordinating events, and making calls to get those face-to-face meetings seems never ending. And in the world of fundraising, there are times of the year that things are slow and times that seem like you need 30 hours in a day just to keep up with the Q1 issues in the Eisenhower Matrix. Long days and late nights are the name of the game and sometimes you just have to buckle up and ride it out. And I suppose sleep when the baby sleeps, amirite...

It takes a village to raise a baby...

Babies require a lot of people on board to raise them right. Our in-laws spent two weeks with us after Ellie was born and it still seemed like we could have used another dozen people around to help. Cooking, cleaning, driving, feeding, bathing, carrying, rocking, walking, buckling...it all takes people and time. Even with our plans made and multiple people in the house, there were still moments where everyone was overwhelmed. Add in the fact that we discovered water leaks with the master shower, dishwasher and kitchen sink in the first two weeks of Ellie did not help matters in the least. But life must go on. At some point you have to prioritize, delegate, divide and conquer and know that everyone is doing their very best just to have a fighting chance. 

Development programs also require a team approach. In my experience, getting staff, volunteers and technology all working together is the only way to get stuff done. When we talk about the “art and science” of fundraising, what we mean is that some elements need personal attention and strategy and other aspects just need someone to “push the buttons” and make it happen. Consistency is critical to build success and this can be very tough for just one person to keep up with. I find that setting and sticking to deadlines - whether its the actual printer deadline or something completely arbitrary and imaginary - is often the best strategy just to be able to stay on task and keep things moving in a timely manner. This also means that the right tasks need to be assigned to the right person. Volunteers may not be able to enter gifts and send appeals but maybe they can approve newsletter copy and help make donor introductions. Just like a baby, it takes a village to raise money. 

Babies are so worth it in the end...

With four kids, I have the benefit of having seen those newborns progress out of that early stage and enter into periods of life that are so much fun. We get to see them take their first steps, learn their ABCs, make that first ride without training wheels and establish their own friendships and relationships at school, church and in the neighborhood. It's not always easy (and quite frankly some things get tougher as time goes on), but being witness to that maturity and those milestones is so incredibly rewarding. I wouldn’t trade any of them away for anything and feel unbelievable and indescribable joy in those happy moments. 

Development programs are tough to get off the ground but the return on investment for that hard work is seen in some of the most profound and unexpected ways. Adding staff who can do more outreach and change lives. Building facilities that make new ministry possible in unimaginable ways. Connecting with and building lifelong friendships with generous and caring people we would never meet otherwise. The payoff is definitely worth it even if we can’t fathom getting to that point when we’re just getting started. 

Maybe it's because I have been doing both long enough to see those results, but I can’t imagine better and more worthwhile struggles to voluntarily enter into in my life. Babies may be tough in the beginning, but totally worth it. I feel the exact same way about fundraising. There are many dark days for even the most skilled fundraisers, but ask anyone who has been doing it for longer than a day and I suspect you’ll get the same answer. Do it. Do it again. And then do it again...


Hit me up at [email protected] or on Twitter @arob_in_hd if you want to share your story. 


 

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