With Respect to Abraham Lincoln, Not All Are Equal in Fundraising | npENGAGE

With Respect to Abraham Lincoln, Not All Are Equal in Fundraising

By on Apr 5, 2016


charitable giving

As an American—and an Illinoisan—I grew up on a steady diet of Abraham Lincoln. I visited the historic sites, read books about him, and even diagrammed “The Gettysburg Address” in the eighth grade. (If you have no idea what I mean by that, you’re clearly not a product of the Chicago Public Schools.)

The famous first line of that Address states that “all men (and women) are created equal”—an idea borrowed from our American Declaration of Independence. This is something ingrained into the hearts and minds of American schoolchildren. You can argue that we haven’t always lived out that truth, but it is, never-the-less, a basic tenet in America—as it is for many other nations.

That poses a dilemma for fundraisers.

By extension, we may assume that this means that all donors are created equal. And perhaps, all methodologies are created equal. But woe to the fundraiser who tries to do it all for everyone—he or she will end up exhausted . . . or unemployed.

Because the reality is, not all donors or methodologies are equal. In fact, Network for Good noted in its “20 Must-Know Fundraising and Social Media Stats” last fall that according to Boomerang, “88% of dollars raised comes from 12% of an organization’s donors.” That’s a whole lot of inequality, Mr. Lincoln.

So why do we insist on spending an equal amount of time on the $5 or $10 donor as we do on the $500 or $5,000 donor?

There are things we need to do for every donor.

  • We need to receipt them and say thank you.
  • We need to show them how their donations made a difference.
  • We need to give them another opportunity to give.

But we don’t need to be everywhere, doing everything, trying to reach everyone.

Before I go any further, I will confess to a bias—as a fundraiser, I am partial to donors and potential donors who have three characteristics: a philanthropic nature, interest in the particular cause I am working for, and disposable income. And let’s be honest, that last characteristic eliminates a lot of people.

So, where should we invest the majority of our efforts in a fundraising program that accepts that not all donors are created equal?


Giving USA reports (year-after-year; this is not new) that the bulk of money given to charity in the United States comes from individuals. In fact, when you add in bequests (which result from individual giving), $8 of every $10 given comes from individuals. Pursuing grants from foundations and corporations is great, but if you have to make a choice of how to invest time or salary dollars, individuals are the clear winner in the non-equality game.


The same compilation of statistics from Network for Good notes that volunteers give to charity twice as often as their non-volunteering peers. Some nonprofits are uncomfortable asking their volunteers for a donation; after all, they are already doing so much for us. . . . But ask. Be gentle, be affirmative of what a valuable gift their time is to your organization, but still ask.


Ever since Facebook was launched in 2004, we’ve been chasing after each new social networking site with a desperation that sometimes overlooks the lack of inequality of the different platforms. With 200+ sites to choose from, it simply doesn’t make sense to focus on most of them. Score.org tells us that of the “Big 5” (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter), Facebook is still the best platform to reach adults age 50 and older, followed by LinkedIn and then Pinterest. Since adults over age 50 often have more disposable income than their younger cohorts, nonprofits should focus on leveraging Facebook to connect with boomers by posting and sharing meaningful content related to their cause.

Looking for the secret to accomplishing more from your fundraising efforts without simply having to do more?

Forget equality and focus on the donors that are giving—or are capable of giving— the bulk of your income. You’ll be even more passionate about fundraising when you see better results for your efforts. It’s like Abraham Lincoln said, “Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do well. With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with less fatigue.”

Sounds good to me!


Pamela Barden, CFRE, is a Direct Response Fundraising Strategist and Copywriter. With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations.  She specializes in writing fundraising copy, P.R. materials and instructional articles, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy.

As Vice President and Group Director at Russ Reid (2006–2009), she was responsible for the management of the largest single account for this marketing agency specializing in nonprofit fundraising.  Her nonprofit experience includes leading the fundraising work for International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (2001–2006); World Relief Corporation (1988–2001) and Youth for Christ/USA (1979–1988).

Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), an Advisory Panel Member for Rogare: The Fundraising Think Tank of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from the DMA, a Distinguished Instructor for UCLA Extension, adjunct instructor at University of La Verne and a weekly columnist for “Today in Fundraising.”

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