What Your Non-Profit Can Learn from Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin has always been one of my favorite American founding fathers.  Statesman, businessman, inventor, scientist and schmoozer, Ben was known the world over for his powers of persuasion and thought.

One of Franklin’s major bequests to the modern world is the treasure trove of witticisms and wise sayings that he published in his Poor Richard’s Almanacs and his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette.  Several of his sayings have import for today’s non-profits.  Here’s what your organization can learn from the wise and witty Benjamin Franklin…

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Small non-profits are often good at conserving money, but larger organizations almost never are.  Once a non-profit gets to a certain size, it seems that the number of vice presidents multiplies, the waste of expensive office supplies and office space grows, and marketing materials get incredibly elaborate and ornate.

Yet, these same large non-profits are always talking about the need to increase revenue goals and raise more money.  Remember what wise old Ben said about a penny saved…  Every dollar your organization raises and doesn’t spend on overhead and frivolous items is like another dollar raised for programs and services.  I once saw a non-profit cut $100,000 out of wasteful overhead in one year – it was like raising an extra $100,000 for their programs!

“Necessity never made a good bargain.”

We all know that carefully cultivating donors and building relationships with them is the best way to create lifetime givers and larger gifts for your organization.  But when your non-profit is missing revenue goals and worried about paying the rent, there isn’t time to properly cultivate prospects.  You need money NOW!

As Franklin said, “necessity never made a good bargain,” and non-profits that raise money out of dire necessity don’t have the luxury of doing it right, and thus create one-time givers and a higher percentage of “no’s.”  Build your pipeline now, and cultivate new donors before the money is needed, while you have time to do it the right way.

“Little strokes fell great oaks.”

So many non-profits know the right way to handle donors, build strategy, and implement tactics, but instead get focused on mighty future goals.  These are the organizations where they aren’t making follow-up calls to donors, but they are constantly talking about how they want to launch a major capital campaign in the next 12 months.

Ben knew that little steps, when added together, breed great rewards.  Franklin and I are both proponents of thinking big in your fundraising.  But you also need to do the little things right.  Things like stewarding donors, holding non-ask events, and communicating with your prospects add up and make the big things possible.

“Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked and never well mended.”

Where would your non-profit be without its good reputation?  Donors, foundations, government officials, volunteers and the media all care about the standing of your non-profit.

As Franklin noted, reputation is incredibly easy to lose.  All it takes is getting caught in a lie to your donor, fudging a grant report, or posting inaccurate information on your website to make people think twice about supporting your non-profit.  And once your character has been called into question, it is incredibly hard to get your organization’s good name back.  Far better to stay in good standing from the get-go!

This Issue Written in Partnership with PrintRunner

PrintRunner is a friendly printing company committed to social responsibility through partnering with non-profit organizations. They provide custom print items for fundraising, outreach, events and cultivation.


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