Hangin' with Henry and talking about setting fundraising goals

It is the first Thursday of the month, which can only mean one thing at DonorDreams blog. We’re “Hangin’ With Henry” today and talking about when goal setting for fundraising campaigns becomes a little counter-intuitive.  Henry characterizes it as “when raising more money is easier than raising less”.
For those of you who subscribe to DonorDreams blog and get notices by email, you will want to click this link to view this month’s featured YouTube video. If you got here via your web browser, then you can click on the video graphic below.
If you clicked through and watched Henry’s 3:33 minute short video, then you saw him playing with a rubber band as he described the challenges associated with setting campaign goals that are too big as well as too small.
I loved this analogy, and it reminded me of a story about one of my favorite donors.
I had been recently hired as the new executive director, and my start date just so happened to align with annual campaign season. During my first week on the job, I learned that the board’s idea of an annual campaign involved sending 10 letters to their friends asking for $100 each. There were no in-person visits, and only a few people were following up with phone calls. Needless to say, there wasn’t much money being raised.
So, I decided to jump in with both feet and change the campaign by introducing a face-to-face, in-person solicitation strategy. In addition to selling the board on the idea and bringing some training to the table, I started looking around the community for seasoned fundraising volunteers who I could recruit to work five pledge cards.
Of course, I started developing my prospect list by reviewing previous year’s donor honor roll lists (because of course they didn’t own a donor database. UGH!).
Shortly after identifying a few people with the right set of fundraising skills and experiences,  I found myself in the office of someone who would become one of my favorite donors of all time. As I sat in this person’s office, I asked him to consider renewing his pledge and working five pledge cards. I’ll never forget the words he uttered immediately after I asked for these two commitments.
He said . . .

“Erik, you’re new to town so please understand that I’m not the guy you ask to work five pledge cards valued at a few hundred dollars for your annual campaign with a goal of  $20,000. I’m the guy you ask to help raise millions of dollars for your capital campaign.”

He promptly reached into the middle drawer of his desk, pulled out a checkbook, wrote a check for the amount I asked him to pledge, and sent me on my merry way.
I walked away from that meeting with the following thoughts:

  • I failed to ask him for a large enough pledge because he simply wrote a check right on the spot
  • Our annual campaign goal was too small and didn’t inspire people to stretch

Henry captures this idea so perfectly in 3:33 minutes and with a rubber band as a prop. If I could go back in time and talk to my young fundraising professional self, I would share this YouTube video with him.
Learn a lesson from me. Consider sharing Henry’s video and my blog with your resource development committee or your board of directors before setting your next fundraising campaign or event goal. I suspect you may be surprised at the discussion that ensues.
A word of caution . . . please don’t mishear Henry. He is NOT saying you should set lofty, unreasonable goals because that rubber band will break and donor confidence in your organization will evaporate. He is simply suggesting that the idea of “stretching” is a powerful engagement tool in your fundraising toolbox both for donors and volunteers.
Please take a minute to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

  • How do you go about setting your fundraising goals?
  • How do you prepare your board members and fundraising volunteers for this conversation?
  • Do you have any fun personal stories like the one I just shared?

If you want to purchase a complete set of videos or other fundraising resources from Henry Freeman, you can do so by visiting the online store at H. Freeman Associates LLC. You can also sign-up for quarterly emails with a FREE online video and discussion guide by clicking here.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. This is a great story! It is also chock full of so many truisms in development work — the need for a great case statement, proper executive direction, active board engagement in development, an ip to date donor database, asking people in person, establishing a large enough goal to get the community excited, key stakeholder training, visioning the mission of the organization — any one of these topics alone could fill a worthwhile book. Many thanks for sharing this article!

    1. Steve . . . thanks for dropping in with that comment. You are sooooo right when you say any one of these topics could fill a book. Let me know when you want to start working on jointly authorizing an eBook or two. It has been on my radar for quite some time. 🙂

      1. I am ready to co-author when you are as I have been thinking about placing some of my experiences into writing for a few years. Maybe co-authoring is the way to make that happen.

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