5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising

Moses can teach us a number of important things about fundraising. Yes, that Moses, the prophet revered by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other religious faiths throughout the world.

Consider just one story from the Bible that usually receives little attention.

Moses by rorris via FlickrOver 3,000 years ago, after fleeing slavery in Egypt, the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. During this time, God instructed Moses to have the people build a Tabernacle, a movable tent-like structure where the Hebrews could worship and experience the presence of God.

Special materials, fabrics, and precious stones and metals were needed for the project. So, Moses told the Hebrews about the project and shared with them what was needed. Then, he made a request to “everyone whose hearts so move them.” Moses asked them to “bring gifts for God” so that the Tabernacle could be built.

The Hebrews responded with great generosity by providing the needed materials and volunteer labor. Moses, overwhelmed by the volume of gifts received, actually had to instruct people to stop bringing gifts. No more were needed for the project.

Here are five things every fundraiser can learn from this story and the wisdom of Moses:

1. Articulate a strong case for support. Moses told the Hebrews precisely why the project was being undertaken, what the project would need to succeed, when the Tabernacle would be built, how the structure would be built, who would be involved, and what the benefits to the community would be.

As fundraising professionals, the more specific we can be when appealing to prospective donors, the more successful we will usually be. As Moses and the Hebrews proved, a strong, compelling case can unlock extraordinary generosity even during tough times.

Having the right campaign chairman also helps. :-)

By the way, Moses achieved project success without a feasibility study, a consultant, a fancy four-color case statement, or a big campaign budget. I’m not suggesting that those things are not valuable in our time. However, I am saying that a strong, well-articulated case for support is the central element of a successful fundraising campaign.

2. Be specific when making an ask. Moses did not issue a vague request such as, “Anything you can do would be appreciated.” Instead, he told the Hebrews exactly what was needed in terms of materials and labor.

Fundraising professionals need to outline exactly what they need and then ask for it. Again, the more specific the better. For example, a hospital was able to raise 68 percent more when, compared to a control group simply asked for unrestricted support, it told prospective donors how gifts were specifically used the previous year and how new gifts would be put to use.

3. Focus on those who will benefit from the project. At the time, the Hebrews were an insecure people wandering the wilderness with an uncertain future. It’s easy to see why the Tabernacle project would be embraced. Moses told the community that the Tabernacle would be a house for God, a place where the Hebrews could worship and experience God’s presence. That’s a powerful benefit for an insecure community. The project was not simply to benefit Moses or the priests. It was not even to just benefit God. The project would benefit the entire community as well.

When making an appeal, fundraising professionals must answer this question: “What’s in it for the donor?” The answer will vary from prospect to prospect, from organization to organization, and project to project. Sometimes, the answer will involve tangible benefits (i.e.: a coffee mug, a blanket, etc.), recognition (i.e.: name on a wall, annual report, etc.), or more. At other times, the answer might involve intangible benefits such as a good feeling, sense of belonging, fulfillment of religious duty, or more.

4. Recognize what is in the prospect’s heart. In his appeal to the Hebrews, Moses acknowledged that individuals would and should give based on what was in their hearts.

Like Moses, we must all recognize that simple truth. We need to understand what motivates our prospective donors so that we can inspire them to give. However, the resources belong to the prospect and, therefore, it is up to the individual to decide what gift, if any, is appropriate.

5. Use gifts for the stated, intended purpose. Moses requested gifts for a very specific project. When he had enough to complete the task, he did not continue to collect gifts to use for another undertaking. Instead, he announced the completion of the campaign and turned away additional gifts.

As fundraising professionals, we must exercise great care to ensure that a donor’s gift is used for the purpose intended by the donor. We cannot solicit a gift for one project and then use it for another without the donor’s permission. Furthermore, we should not solicit gifts we do not need.

Moses is best known as the political leader of the Hebrews, a religious leader, and a lawgiver. Now, you know he was also a savvy fundraiser.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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21 Responses to “5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising”

  1. Very well said. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Great post Michael, humorous and insightful! One might add that Moses probably didn’t look anything like Charlton Heston, but had he, it surely couldn’t have hurt his extraordinary fundraising and leadership skills.

    • Steve, thanks for commenting. I’m glad you liked this post. When putting it together, I thought about using a photo of Charlton Heston. Then something sad occurred to me: There are probably a lot of folks out there, much younger than we are, who have never seen The Ten Commandments and, therefore, who would not have understood it. While speaking with someone recently, I made a Soylent Green reference. This individual not only never saw that fun Heston sci-fi film, he had never heard of it. Sigh.

      • Oh so true, great analology… Simple, thoughtful, and effective concepts for those that do recall the familiar… Moses & Charlton Heston… and both movies spectacular… must see!

      • Deena, thanks for commenting. I’m glad you liked my post. I think it’s kind of cool when we learn a thoroughly modern lesson from a story that is thousands of years old.

  3. Michael, I went to a community fundraising meeting that involves partners across our local Jewish community this week. (My organization is not Jewish, but has Jewish roots).

    A rabbi offered a D’var Torah to open the meeting – and talked about almost the exact same things! Great minds – and such cool synchronicity!

  4. Michael, once again you are batting 100! Perhaps this resonated so much with me because I am Jewish and, having been raised to give back to my community, this just pulled it all together. Thanks for this great insight!

  5. Very well stated – sharing with my team – look forward to hearing more at AiP Conf. soon!

  6. Great reminder to prepare with a purpose a compelling message with stated outcomes so that the donor feels moved to respond.

    • Steve, thanks for your comment. I think it really does come down to sharing the organization’s passion, articulating its mission, explaining how donated funds will benefit the donor and others, demonstrating the responsible use of donated funds, and achieving great outcomes. We can’t simply say, as many organizations effectively do, “Hi, we’re here. Give us money, please.” Those who do are not development professionals, they’re panhandlers.

  7. Michael, great article and very timely with organizing for Passover. Shared w/my network! Thanks!

  8. Wonderful post, no direct mail needed there- personal ask worked!

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