The Rebel's Guide to Fundraising
June 5, 2024

How to leave the status quo behind for good…

No matter what you’re doing in life, one statement typically holds true: if you want to achieve different results, you have to do something different. Mind-blowing…we know. We'll wait while you gather yourself. There’s not a person on the planet who would argue with that, and yet it's not rare for leaders to find themselves frustrated with the returns they're getting from the, say, fundraising initiative they implemented a decade ago…and haven't touched since. 

It doesn't mean that the strategy was always bad. But just because something works today doesn't mean it will work tomorrow. Enter the concept of the "Fundraising Rebel," a term championed by the esteemed Lisa Stueckemann, CFRE, and recent guest on The Nonprofit Renaissance Podcast. A fundraising rebel doesn't just follow the rules—they redefine them, pushing boundaries and exploring innovative approaches to donor engagement.

What is a Fundraising Rebel?

A fundraising rebel sees the world through a different lens. They are disruptors, unafraid to question the norm and introduce fresh ideas that can transform how we approach philanthropy. 

So, what makes someone a "rebel" in the fundraising world? It's not just about being different, it's about combining a genuine love for people, strong administrative skills, creativity, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. They don't have to be loud extroverts, just deeply interested in understanding people's stories and motivations. Unlike traditional fundraisers who may stick to well-trodden paths like annual galas and standard donor letters, fundraising rebels constantly seek new ways to connect and engage. Below, we take a look at some of the ways fundraising rebels can challenge the status quo and connect with donors like never before. 

Status Quo: View donors as check-writers.

How to Rebel:
View donors as partners.

One of the core tenets of being a fundraising rebel is genuinely loving the humans you engage with. Lisa emphasizes, "The ideal fundraiser is strong in two areas. The first area is they love humans." This goes beyond mere interaction; it's about deeply caring for the donors and their stories. As a fundraising rebel, your ability to build authentic relationships with donors means engaging with them on a personal level, understanding their motivations, and valuing their contributions beyond monetary donations. This empathy is what sets you apart and makes your fundraising efforts more impactful.

Status Quo: Only worry about the relational connection.

How to Rebel:
Fortify the relationship with exceptional administration.

Alongside their people skills, fundraising rebels possess strong administrative abilities. Lisa highlights, "They're equitably as good in administration…so they understand that there's a plan and a process, and they understand that you need to go back to your office and write in the CRM system what just happened in that meeting." This balance ensures that interactions with donors are both meaningful and well-documented.

By combining a love for people with strong administrative skills, fundraising rebels ensure that every interaction is purposeful and tracked. This helps avoid the frustrating scenario of starting out a relationship on a great foot and then getting tripped up by a lack of follow-through or forgotten details. 

Status Quo: Recycle everything.

How to Rebel:
Design innovative experiences.

Lisa's creative background in musical theater has been instrumental in her approach to fundraising. "I was a creative first... that's the lens I see everything through... And I want meaningful experiences for donors because that's what the arts are all about," she explains. This creative perspective is not just about being artistic, it's about balancing creativity with a strong reliance on data to inform decisions. It's about understanding that the best strategies are those that are both innovative and strategic.

Traditional fundraising often relies on routine, repetitive events and campaigns, sticking to past successes with little innovation. Fundraising rebels, however, bring creativity to their strategies, underpinned by data. Lisa wanted more than the usual gala format, so she reimagined the event using donor feedback. Instead of the typical speeches, standard dining, and predictable auction segments, she incorporated interactive elements, personal touches, and dynamic entertainment and storytelling. This approach created a more meaningful and engaging experience, resonating more deeply with attendees.

Status Quo: Stay safe and do what's always been done.

How to Rebel:
Question everything and pivot when necessary.

This is the most fundamental quality of a fundraising rebel. They are unafraid to challenge traditional practices and advocate for changes that better serve donors and the organization. This mindset involves questioning established methods, seeking out inefficiencies, and proposing innovative solutions. As a fundraising rebel, you play a crucial role in improving donor engagement and enhancing your organization's impact. Your willingness to take risks and experiment with new ideas is what drives progress in philanthropy.

Many nonprofits stick to tried-and-true methods even when they are no longer effective. A fundraising rebel questions the efficacy of these methods and is willing to propose bold changes. Lisa recounts advising organizations to reconsider ineffective annual events, analyzing their impact, and suggesting more meaningful and efficient alternatives. This might mean shifting focus from large, resource-intensive galas to smaller, more personal donor engagements that drive more significant impact.

Are you ready to rebel? 

Becoming a fundraising rebel isn't just about shaking up the status quo, it's about personal growth and professional development. It's about blending creativity with data-driven strategies, building genuine relationships with donors, and constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible in philanthropy. Lisa Stueckemann's experiences in donor development show that the rewards of being a fundraising rebel are well worth the effort. So, take a step back, take a deep breath, and why not start a rebellion?

If you want to revolutionize fundraising and make a greater impact in our communities, check out the complete episode, and to work with a team of rebels, contact Vers today!

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