Raising money — one, unproductive $5 sale at a time

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. Dani typically blogs about board development and governance related topics on the first Wednesday of each month, but I just couldn’t resist publishing this awesome piece that she wrote about fundraising. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on Amazon.com. 

Raising money — one, unproductive $5 sale at a time

By Dani Robbins
Originally published at Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com


My daughter recently has been asked to raise money for three organizations: our school PTA, our Temple and Girl Scouts. Last year, she raised money for the American Heart Association’s Jump-A-Thon. She is an amazing fund-raiser. I am incredibly proud of her. She’s 7.

We get a weekly fund-raising request from one organization or another – Market Days, sign up your grocery card, click this website — once a day. Can this really be our plan?

I do not want to go to our friends and family three different times (or more) this season alone to ask for $1 to $30 each time. They do not want to buy nuts, a magazine or an entertainment book. (OK, they may want to buy that.) They will buy whatever my daughter is selling to support her, just as I will buy whatever their children are selling to support them.

When I was a kid, we took our UNICEF cans along with us as we went trick or treating. I walked in the MS Walk-A-Thon, and I probably would have sold Girl Scout cookies had I stuck around long enough. My parents gave blood, supported a variety of charities and taught my brother and me that we each had an obligation to work to make the world a better place. I teach my children the same thing. Yet, even so, I keep thinking: “What are we doing?

People give to people. I know it well. I’ve lived it. I teach it professionally.

Seventy-five percent of all giving in the United States in 2009 was individual giving. That’s giving, not buying. That may be why this makes me so crazy. lt’s because I know that selling things to raise money $5 at a time is not a good use of anyone’s time or precious resources.

Wouldn’t it be easier if the institution’s leader, or whomever you know the best, said: “We need this much money at a minimum, can you please invest in us – volunteer or support us financially or better yet, both?”

Some people don’t readily have an extra few bucks but have some time and are very willing to work to support institutions they believe in. Others have a few extra bucks they are willing to share, but no time. Some, who are a blessing to their communities, share freely of their time, and also their resources.

kidsselling2There are exceptions to my general rule of “no selling”. The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts sell cookies and popcorn very well. Their troops, which are volunteer-led, rely on those sales for most of their troop activities. Good for them! There are also
people who buy things who would never think to write a check to an organization. (To those people, I ask you to please find an organization that you believe in and write a check. Why should you? Because you can — and they need your help.)

The main reason that I advocate against selling things, in addition to the significant safety issues for our children, is the minimal return for the organization. Our community’s organizations have to raise money. They can spend time figuring out what to sell, coordinating the sale, selling and collecting money from the sale. Or they can spend time creating a plan to ask individuals for money, asking, thanking people and telling them what they did with their money.

Which is a better use of our time and energy? Which is a better return for the organization? Hands down, I advocate the latter.

Other than Scouting, let’s stop selling things or, at a minimum, asking our children to sell things. Let’s build our ability to ask for money. Let’s thank people for their money. Let’s tell them what we did with their money. Let’s keep them engaged. Let’s talk more about what our institutions contribute to our community and what they truly need to be viable. When our community’s institutions are viable, we are all better off.

This post was originally published at Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com and is republished with the permission of Dani Robbins. You can find this article at: http://www.ohio. com/editorial/commentary/’l 04925649. html
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  1. This is coming at just the right time, Erik. My nonprofit has absolutely no donor base, so I am just making lists of people based on our three focuses and sending out e-mails saying, “Would you like to volunteer at one of our services or donate $10?”

    1. Hey cityweaver … I’m glad today’s post spoke to you. However, I’m not sure if your email strategy will net you much. My suggestion is:

      1. Write a Volunteer Recruitment, Retention & Engagement Plan
      2. Identify & recruit volunteers in-person
      3. After they do some volunteering for you, ask them to consider making a financial contribution (doing so in-person)

      Just my two cents. Good luck!

      1. That was in the back of my mind….. “How do I get them to volunteer, first?”

        The easiest contact information to get on anyone is through their job. Is it kosher to go to the office and ask if the staff is interested in volunteering? Wait, isn’t that how some big nonprofits do it?

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