First Rule of Fundraising: Shut Up

In the thick of it... back when I was a fundraiser in Northern California
In the thick of it… back when I was a fundraiser in Northern California

I have an unreasonable addiction in life.  It is all consuming.  I can’t help but get excited about it.  If the topic comes up in conversation I am automatically into it.  To me, this activity is the great enabler of most of what is best about the world today.  It can relieve poverty, build schools, elect better leaders, even save lives.  If you are good at it, you wield enormous do-gooding clout.  If you are not, your cause will often fizzle.

What is this obsession?  Simple: it’s fundraising.

Bush doctor…

Before I was born my mother worked as a bush doctor in West Africa where she raised the money for six rural health clinics that were built during her three years of work in the country. She passed on to me her fascination with fundraising.

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve headed out to collect funds for various causes. I can remember knocking on doors as a kid growing up in the Philippines, with a little can asking for spare change for humanitarian relief.  These early experiences sparked an interest that actually turned into a career for me later in life: raising money for hospitals.

The catch…

I can literally talk all day about fundraising. But here’s the ironic part:  If you want to raise a large amount of money for a noble cause, one of the first things you should do is shut up about it.

How it works…

Allow me to explain:  If you are a smart fundraiser you make sure you distill your stormy madness of ideas about how to raise funds for your world-changing cause into some kind of coherent method.  Whether the goal is a few thousand dollars or a few hundred thousand dollars, the most effective approach to take to reach the goal is to think of the whole thing as a campaign.

Campaigns broken down

A fundraising campaign can be broken into two key parts: the silent phase and the public phase.  Here’s how it works:


In the silent phase you quietly gather your most important supporters and tell them about your cause.  You get these movers and shakers on board and between them and the deep pockets that you have access to through your personal connections and those of this group of power players, you secure as much of your goal as possible.  Different people quote different percentages of what you should have in the bank but a safe figure to shoot for is 50% of your goal before you move on to the next stage.

Going public

Once you have raised this much you go public.  By the time you get to this public phase you already have momentum.  If you have already raised half or more of your goal, people are more comfortable getting on board and supporting because they feel like they are joining a winning team.  It is easy to get people excited and to cruise to a finish if you have winnner’s momentum.

Savvy, global do-gooding

CultureMutt’s tagline is “savvy, global-do-gooding” and every post is about enabling you and I to actually live a lifestyle that is defined by internationally-minded service.  It is time we got into the nitty gritty of how to concretely fund this kind of service.  So this is the start of my fundraising posts which will pop up more frequently than not on CultureMutt in the future.

Contain your excitement

For now though, let’s remind ourselves of the first basic point:  Don’t talk to everyone about your fundraising plan from the get go.  Contain your excitement and instead talk to a select few.  Sit down with them and quietly strategize about how you will reach your goal.  After you have a concrete plan in place and you have secured enough funding to demonstrate momentum you can release your inner blabber mouth and tell the world.

Get this right and you can change the world through fundraising.  Savvy do-gooding works.  Unguarded bubble blabber doesn’t… it just leads to a painful death soon after your mom and Aunt Elma donate.

As I said, more fundraising posts are in the pipeline… in the meantime, feel free to share your fundraising successes and failures in the comments.  Together we can find ways to harness the power of fundraising to make this world a better place.


9 thoughts on “First Rule of Fundraising: Shut Up”

    1. Great article! “Philanthropic funds should be treated as venture capital that should only be used to bootstrap a business and to scale the business once the business model has been proven on a smaller scale.” I definitely resonate..

      As for personal fundraising, no we didn’t do any fundraising. We basically saved up and established some basic revenue streams instead of setting up donation portals.

  1. Done my fair share of fundraising Bjorn. In the political world. here’s the hilarious part – there’s no shutting up over there. We continue to be public and privately talking about how to hit goals. Ok, maybe we don’t take the private conversations public but we are regularly telling our donors how much we need to raise and why.

    There’s no silence in politics! lol

    1. Vishnu, I’d love to hear more. All the fundraising I have been involved in has been private fundraising, mostly for hospitals. Generally speaking, it is OK to talk to existing donors during the “silent” phase. They are your inner circle and need to give first. Then, when they have given you go loud and you go bold to the community…

      1. YEah, I think in politics you try to give ownership of the whole campaign to donors (and activists of course) so you want them to know what it’s going to cost, what they need to do and what all of you need to do collectively to make sure that candidate wins and the values you value win. You may have internal targets and goals which is not always shared but we’re not trying to hide it. We show the need is great to raise more money.
        Vishnu recently posted…Unveiled: My Life and Lessons as a NunMy Profile

        1. I like this cross-pollination! Healthcare could learn a lot from politics:) Oh wait, I think I just upset about every hospital CEO I know!!

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