The Unfortunate Separation of Mission and Fundraising

Separating mission work from fundraising work is a deeply rooted practice in nonprofit. I challenge that. I challenge the idea that there is any scenario where a complete separation is necessary or more productive than collaboration. Here is a good illustration of what could be.

I was in church at a congregational meeting recently. It was ultimately about stewardship—how are we going to keep the doors open and work toward our mission? I thought I was at work for a moment. The meeting progressed, and it became more and more clear that my church’s problems were exactly the same as those of the typical national peer-to-peer income event manager:

  • Acquisition
  • Mobilization to action
  • Leadership

All of this ultimately funds our mission work. I was in the worst sort of quandary. I have no more time in my week, yet due to my work in peer-to-peer fundraising I was uniquely qualified to help. The problems my church is having are exactly what I am experienced at fixing.

I came home from that meeting, thumped my forehead on the countertop, and said to my husband, “I cannot do this. I just can’t fit any more stuff in my life.”

He looked at me and said, “Do it. You have to. You are uniquely prepared.”

I lifted my bruised forehead and said (to my Buddhist husband), “What, you’re on God’s team now?”

He stared back, irritatingly calm and Zen-like, “You already decided. You just haven’t accepted it. You wouldn’t have said that to me if you hadn’t decided.”

Having a Buddhist psychologist for a husband is sometimes a shortcut to a fuller understanding of one’s own behavior.

The next thing I knew, the preacher was at my house having coffee. We were discussing how to mobilize people to action. In the end, here’s where we landed:

  1. We’ll establish service opportunities that will help people acquire a self-label that they are connected to our church. How does this work? Different blog. These service opportunities will be varied—some prison work, some homeless work, some at-risk youth work, whatever it takes to get them to do something, anything with us. If we can get them to just associate with us and exhibit a behavior connoting affiliation, we can get them to take the next step, which is simply more association with us. It’s all wrapped up in self-perception, behavior leading to belief, and bias for consistency.
  2. Once they are associated with the church regarding their specific areas of interest, then we’ll escalate (my preacher has an excellent evil laugh that he does every time I say “escalate”).
  3. After a while, we know their affinities for their particular interests (prisoners, at-risk youth, hunger, whatever) will transfer to our church because they are serving with us, associating with us, being part of us.

That transference of affinity is a powerful and underestimated phenomenon, and is also well-documented. Per my Buddhist husband, also Turnkey’s psychological expert, Otis Fulton, “If social psychology has taught us anything during the last 25 years, it is that we are likely not only to think ourselves into a way of acting but also to act ourselves into a way of thinking. Humans are predisposed to seek group affiliation. Behavior on behalf of any group creates a powerful motivation to align one’s attitudes and beliefs with that of the group.”

And all of this makes me ask, why do nonprofits separate mission from fundraising? We may well be shooting ourselves in the feet to do so, though I know the organizational chart works a lot better that way, and measuring performance is for sure less messy if they are separate.

In the end, if someone will volunteer on the mission side with us, they will donate and fundraise if well-handled. Time to quit protecting our lists, siloing our information and pretending we have different jobs. We don’t.