Arms-Length Fundraising

DEF150REDThe concept of an arms-length refers to a type of transaction between two independent parties. This transaction ensures that both parties are acting on their own accord and without possibility of a conflict of interest. Granted, when it comes to contracts and other legally-binding negotiations, maintaining an arms-length sounds like a good idea.

However, when we are talking about fundraising, we are not talking about legal negotiations and the end result should always favor someone other than ourselves. Fundraising assumes mutual trust and a shared vision while contracts assume self-interest and the possibility of a law-suit. Fundraising loses the spirit of generosity and gratitude when we characterize it as an arms-length transaction. I would like to believe that neither party sees themselves as independent in their desire to change the world.

Unfortunately, today’s traditional methods of fundraising demand an arms-length approach whether we like it or not. With mailing lists that reach into the tens of thousands if not millions, our only option is to communicate in mass to thousands of people who we will never meet in-person. The question we must ask ourselves is whether soliciting so many people is necessary in order to reach our fundraising goals. Are we so convinced that fewer, more intimate relationships would not yield more generous results?

An effective fundraiser believes that most of our arms-length techniques are only a means to a much greater end- that of drawing the donor into closer relationship with the organization. Every attempt should be made to prevent the donor from responding a 2nd time to an arms-length approach. For example, special events are at their worst guests are invited year after year, contribute as they may, and have absolutely no interaction with the organization until the following year. The experience becomes something similar to punching a clock – show up, write a check, and await your invitation for next year.

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