3 Provocative Questions to Ask about Your Non-Profit’s Fundraising

by The Fundraiising Authority

Fundraising Questions

Today, I want to stir the pot a little bit. In this post, I want to ask 3 questions about your organization’s fundraising… 3 questions that need to be asked at every non-profit, in order to make sure they are on the right path to development success.

Why do I call these questions provocative? Because chances are, some people at your organization aren’t going to like the fact that they are being asked. And others will think the answers I suggest are flat out wrong.

That’s ok – I’m basing these questions (and analysis) on 15 years of fundraising experience, coupled with tons of research into best practices. Ready?

Question #1: How Much Does Your Development Director Make?

While most people at your organization are not (and should not) be privy to your staff members’ salaries, one key question that needs to be asked is how much your non-profit’s Development Director (or Chief Development Officer, or Vice President of Development… whoever is in charge of the development operation) makes… especially in regards to the salaries of other executives at your organization.

With three narrow exceptions*, your top fundraiser should be the second-highest paid person on your staff, after the Executive Director / CEO.

Think about it – could your non-profit operate without fundraising? Probably not. Chances are that 100% of your staff rely on fundraising revenues to pay their salaries. Likewise, most of your programs rely in whole or in part on fundraising. So… nothing your organization does is more important than development.

At small and mid-sized companies (and many large ones) the top sales executive is the second-highest paid professional on staff. The same should go for non-profits… and at many smart organizations it already does. Where does your Development Director fall on the pay scale? If your top fundraiser is underpaid, it probably means the rest of the fundraising staff is as well… and that development isn’t the priority it should be at your organization.

*The three exceptions I mentioned are extremely large and complicated organizations, where the Chief Operations Officer is responsible for hundreds of locations, or thousands of staff members; major hospitals, where there are numerous specialized medical experts on staff; and large universities. In all three cases, however, the top fundraising professional should still be among the top 5 or 6 paid staff members.

Question #2: How Updated is Your Fundraising Technology?

Look around your non-profit. What type of donor database do you have? What kind of online tools does your fundraising team have at its disposal? Do your fundraisers (or fundraiser… if there’s only one of your) have cell phones and laptops provided by the organization so that they can get out of the office and do donor meetings and Fundraising-Techhave meals with prospects?

Of course, not every non-profit needs the full-tech treatment. If your organization just got started a year or two ago, maybe you don’t need (or can’t afford) laptops and cell phones and a glitzy new online donation page. That’s fine…

But, if your organization is constantly updating technology on the program side, but nickels and dimes the fundraising team on every item, then it’s highly likely your non-profit has a serious culture issue that will negatively impact fundraising in the near future.

Question #3: What’s Your Budget for Fundraising Training and Innovation?

Lots of non-profits try to operate their fundraising on a shoestring budget. Even for those that are willing to invest in development, far too many skimp on training and innovation. Both areas are easy to sweep under the rug, since neither directly impact immediate fundraising goals.

But… both training and innovation are integral to the long term success of your fundraising efforts.

Does your non-profit pay for the fundraising team to take online classes and webinars, buy books, and go to conferences and seminars? Are you encouraged to take a couple of days per year just to brush up on your skills and learn new fundraising techniques? If not, you should be.

Similarly, does your organization have a budget for trying new fundraising tactics each year? For example, if your non-profit has traditionally relied on events and individual fundraising to raise money, would you be able to spend $500 to launch and market a crowdfunding campaign, or $1,000 to try a new participatory event? Innovation is essential to reaching your long term fundraising goals.

Go get some answers to these important questions – at many non-profits, simply asking these questions may be enough to start improving your fundraising culture.

Photo Credits:  Tiffany Terry, CrabChick


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Mandy Johnson February 7, 2015 at 4:41 am

Hi Joe

I love this blog post!

I’m based in the UK at the moment and the charity sector here has recently come under a lot of scrutiny for the amount of money charity employees are paid (even though it’s next to nothing in comparison to the corporate sector!) There is also a lot of pressure on charities NOT to spend money on fundraising. This is why I found your post particularly refreshing.

I’d love to know how you think we can better educate the UK public to understand that investing in fundraising, as you suggest above, is actually one of the best investments an organisation can make as it makes their money go even further?

Any suggestions, thoughts or comments would be greatly appreciated.



Joe Garecht February 9, 2015 at 3:28 pm


It’s a common problem in most developed nations. People naturally want their money to go to programs, without stopping to think about how those programs will find the funding to grow. The first step, in my mind, is for non-profits, including non-profit staff and board members, to stop focusing on low overhead in donor communications. If every non-profit is constantly saying “we have low overhead!” then we are simply training donors to look at the wrong metrics.

After that, it’s a slow process of education and also, I think, a good measure of public relations work. A great place to start is by asking your board to read the following two publications:

The Overhead Myth: http://overheadmyth.com/

UnderDeveloped: http://www.compasspoint.org/underdeveloped

Thanks again for your thoughts.


Nancy Donnaperna February 26, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Hi, Joe,

The question #2 is bang on the target. It’s true that technology helps, but technology alone won’t get the job done. We have to employ that technology in ways that support and enhance fundraising strategy. Data and technology are useless, unless you can use them to move people to action.

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