Twenty years ago there was something of a mystique about raising funds for a nonprofit organization. Getting 501 (c) (3) status from the IRS was a difficult matter. The process was long and confusing. There were few sources of information about the process available and most of those were complicated and confusing. Even if an organization obtained 501 (c) (3) status, therefore making it possible for donors to make tax-deductible donations, most fledging nonprofits did not have someone on staff who was fully versed in any but the most rudimentary fundraising techniques.
Quite often "fundraising" was synonymous with the annual campaign letter. Only those in the "big leagues" of nonprofit operations seemed to be involved with such sophisticated techniques as "planning giving" or extensive grant writing.
According to the IRS there are twice as many 501 (c) (3)s today as there were 20 years ago. No doubt many of the small nonprofit groups (those making less than $25,000 a year) are all-volunteer groups. Even some with larger incomes (who, therefore, must file returns with the IRS) operate only with volunteers. And guess what? Some of these groups are doing a fantastic job of fundraising! They are writing successful grant applications and raising large sums of money for their nonprofit endeavors. Just nine miles away from the offices of The 501 (c) (3) Monthly Letter, an all-volunteer group was recently awarded a $65,000 grant to use in the restoration of an historic ferry house near Lewis, Iowa, population 600. Even closer to home, in Atlantic, Iowa, (7,000 population) volunteers are conducting a campaign to raise $7 million for a town recreation center . . . and it looks as though they will be successful. This is happening all over the country.
There is a new breed of volunteer out there toiling in the trenches . . . dedicated, educated, and resourceful. They have passion for their mission and are willing to use the information age to achieve their objectives.
As many as 90 percent of the e-mail inquiries to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org are from neophytes wanting to know how to set up a nonprofit organization.
So, how long will it take for the number of 501 (c) (3)s to double again? We are willing to venture that it will be closer to five years than twenty.
Do these emerging groups pose any competition for donor dollars? You can bet they do! So, remember that the mystique of fundraising is gone. Others are willing to take the time to learn how to be successful fundraisers. They do this on their own time, at no pay, and they love doing it.
So, beware, professional fundraisers. In order to do a better job of attracting donors than the "amateurs", the professionals among us must keep honing their skills. Just as importantly, they need to keep their mission vital.
Look back at the founding days of your own nonprofit organization. Did it begin with a small group of dedicated volunteers? Were these same people able to engender enough support so that the organization could eventually have paid staff? Do you, perhaps, owe your job to the efforts of such people?
While you are at it, take a look at the volunteers that presently serve your organization. If they come "to work" with more eagerness and dedication than your paid staff, it may be time to start "tuning up" your internal communications for your own "most important audience".