78 Irrefutable Canons of Fundraising – in detail

Jerry Panas

Iam often asked how I chose fundraising as a career. Actually, I didn’t choose fundraising. Fundraising chose me.

Here’s the brief version. I was slated for medical school. I needed some money for tuition. I was in Pittsburgh when I took a job at the YMCA.

The Y put me in charge of fundraising and their campaign. What courage they exhibited. What confidence. What lunacy! I knew nothing about fundraising.

After three months on the job, I thought, “Fundraising— this is really the life.” I was completely enamored. By the time the medical school acceptance letter arrived, I was in love with my new-found calling.

Bye-bye, medicine. Hello to a meaningful, engaging, and fulfilling fundraising career. I went on to start a consultancy that’s advised more than 3,800 nonprofits around the globe.

In the course of doing this, I saved humanity from what would have been the worst doctor in the world. I can’t even stand the sight of blood.

I am convinced that to excel in fundraising, you must view it as a rewarding privilege to help others support a great cause. You must bring tremendous energy to work each day as you meet high lofty goals for yourself and the institution. It takes dogged persistence, commitment, and fervor.

Indeed, there must be zeal for the work and the organization. The difference between having passion and not having passion is the difference between flying and just flapping your wings.

I’m about to tell you what I learned in 40+ years of fundraising about donor motivation, the characteristics of effective gift officers, timeless strategies for securing gifts, and leveraging trustee support.

(Actually, it’s been 50 years, not 40. I don’t, however, count the first 10. That’s because I knew everything the first 10 years and didn’t have anything to learn!)

I call this my IRREFUTABLE CANONS OF FUNDRAISING. There are 78 tenets.


1  People don’t want to give money away. They want to give to an organization that is doing exciting things and making a lasting difference. They give to audacious dreams.

One thing more. Have you noted that donors more and more are
now calling their gifts “investments.” They feel they are making an investment in the institution. And when you make an investment, you want to know about the results. What are the dividends? What am I getting for my investment? Is it going to pay off?

Make certain you let your investors know the results of their investment.

2 Don’t ask donors for their money. Ask for their heart and spirit.

3 Fundraising is not something you do to someone. Asking for a gift is something you do for someone.

Your investors should feel that theirs is a joyful gift— heartfelt and inspirational.

4 There was a man, Some thought him mad. The more he gave away, The more he had.

It is true. Those who make major gifts talk about how the money actually comes back to them. The Bible tells us that life is a wheel. The more you give, the more that is returned. The miracle is, the more you give away the more that comes back.


5  Making a large gift is not rational. It’s visceral. Emotional.

6  Investors want assurances that your institution is financially sound and efficient. They want to know that you stretch the dollar. They don’t want to give to an organization that’s always on the financial border-line or regularly runs a deficit. No one wants to give to save the sinking Titanic.

7 Donors want to know the answer to the WHYs.

  • Why should I give to this institution?
  • Why should I support this specific project?
  • Why now? • Why me?You had better have an answer for all of these questions— in your reading material and when you request the gift.

8 Think of a pond. Throw a pebble into the pond, causing a ripple effect.

A gift is like that. It causes a ripple effect. It touches lives that touch other lives. The ripples continue.

Because of your work, you touch the lives of those you may never know. But you raise the funds that impact their lives. In turn, they touch other lives. The ripples never end.

What profession could possibly be more rewarding. More fulfilling.


9  Your job is to help people get what they want. Give them more and more of what they want, and you will get more of what you want.

10  Donors want most of all to join in a noble and towering cause. They want their gift to make a difference. Don’t ask for their money. Tell them how their gift can make a difference.

11  If you want to uncover the true value of a person, don’t measure their net worth. Instead, look at the total they have given away.

12 Fundraisers have only three basic objectives:
      i) To describe their institution and what makes it distinctive,

      ii) To develop a sense of urgency for the project or program, and

      iii) To secure the necessary funds to make it happen.

That’s how simple it is!

13  Your job is to get the largest gift possible, in the shortest amount of time, to the greatest joy of the donor.

14  It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not about money. It’s not about a campaign. It’s not about annual support. It’s about the people you serve. Securing the necessary funds to make it happen is what it’s all about.

15  When asking for a gift, it’s far more than just money. It’s dreams and high aspirations. It’s the human spirit ignited.16  People give to change lives and to save lives. That is the chief motivating factor. Make that the dominant theme in your material and contacts.

17  Donors can feel your passion. If you aren’t head over heels committed and totally enthusiastic in your work, you’re either at the wrong organization or in the wrong profession.

18  Success in fundraising is due less to the fundraiser’s experience than to loving the work. Less to intelligence than to your zeal. Less to the mechanics of the job than to enthusiasm and total commitment to the mission.

19 You never have enough time. Never! You won’t get everything done. Accept it, and get on with life. Time flies. The good news is that you are the pilot.

20 How is it that you so often feel hurried and over-worked? Spending ten hours a day at the office and still making so few appointments.

What are you doing instead? Organizing your desk? Attending staff meetings? Playing with e-mail?

Some will do anything to delay picking up the phone and connecting with a probable donor.

Go ahead. Just do it. Let your credo be TNT (Today Not Tomorrow).


21 Here’s an important suggestion for you. Dedicate one day a week to making phone calls— for appointments and stewardship calls.

Think about Tuesday, for instance. Your donors are mostly back at work and the weekend is behind them.

Let everyone know you are not to be disturbed. Not under any condition. Your door is closed.

Dedicate the full day to doing nothing but making appointments and making stewardship calls. The full day.

Read the rest of this article at http://files.constantcontact.com/87a92190301/9e1e7011-28c3-4610-8d0e-5e8a7b1879b0.pdf?ct=t()&mc_cid=cc14931826&mc_eid=e77b83e3a9

  • : Jerry Panas