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Fundraising Grit that George Washington would Applaud

Release anxiety by striking a fundraising bonanza.

Imagine that sweet victory. The loud cheers would be deafening. But amplifying your fundraising results will take more than you may think. So let’s draw on the wisdom of  “The American Cincinnatus”- George Washington- for some clues.

Begin by assessing your resources.

Washington had limited resources at his disposal. There was an endless need for food, clothing and arms. Movement of his troops was difficult. Congress attempted to micromanage his efforts. Morale was hard to keep up under the conditions. Even infighting was a problem. This environment was full of uncertainty. Sound familiar?

As a leader, here are some of the ways Washington addressed resource constraints.

  • Collaboration. By gaining the support of (but not selling out to) the French, victory was possible.
  • Adaptation. Drawing upon past experience, Washington was able to compete, survive and ultimately succeed.  
  • Introspection. Washington knew himself well, never strayed from his core values and was mission driven. 

Keeping in mind these points, let’s look at assessing resources from a different angle. Here are three important groups of resources that a nonprofit organization can draw upon.

  • Time– particularly that of employees and volunteers.
  • Fixed Assets– property such as buildings, land and equipment.
  • Money– liquid assets.

Take stock of what assets-tangible and intangible- you already have and which are missing.

Now get this straight.

Washington’s troops were mutinous at times. And, if that’s not bad enough, Congress was bankrupt after the end of significant hostilities. Yet Washington was able to align his resources to make the greatest impact. He also energized those around him. As he said: “All I can promise is only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.

As President, Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality when France and England were at war. His philosophy was that energy needed to be focused on development and growth- not military action. Despite mobs of people threatening him, Washington stood behind the Proclamation to put resources to their best strategic use. 

So what can a nonprofit learn from these approaches?

  1.  Positioning of resources can be more important than the measure of resources.
  2. Coordination is necessary to meet the desired fundraising results.
  3. Until they take a bow, conductors of orchestras keep their back to the crowd.
  4. Washington harnessed the power of humility. He displayed it through his writings, his words and his actions.

You will be paid for results- not activity.

And sometimes outstanding results take time to achieve. Although he lost many of his battles with the British, Washington held his army together with a compelling vision of freedom.  This resilience would eventually lead to an astonishing victory over Great Britain. Washington tapped the diverse backgrounds and allegiances of his soldiers to create surprising outcomes.

How can a nonprofit leader apply Washington’s approach to attain fundraising success?

  • Embrace diversity and it’s melting pot of ideas.
  • Help the fundraising team understand the repercussions of their actions.
  • Be clear about the vision and it’s challenges- without any sugar-coating.
  • Seek contributions from the team before proposing a solution.
  • Put a stop to costly, unproductive fundraising activity.
  • Lead the fundraising team to decisions that have the highest chance of generating optimal results.
  • Never leave out the possibility of a surprise attack. 

Celebrate but don’t get too comfortable.

Even after Washington led his troops to victory, he remained wary of yet another battle. Washington never rested on his laurels and was always humble in accepting many accolades. He considered discipline the soul of an army. As Washington said, “it makes small numbers formidable, procures success to the weak and esteem to all“. Washington applauded unusual gallantry and even created a special award to boost morale.

  • Captivate your donor audience and stop trying to latch onto it.
  • Clearly illuminate results but don’t be flashy about it.
  • Keep close track of progress toward milestones.
  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Don’t settle for the mediocrity of industry norms. 
  • Never stop seeking avenues for improvement.


Here’s your marching orders!


(can you keep up with George?)

1. Evaluate your resource requirements

Simply note the resources you need to advance your nonprofit mission. How much of each do you currently have available? How does that supply match up with your needs?

    • Just because you have an abundance of a resource today, does not mean you will enjoy that advantage tomorrow.
    • A crisis demands attention now!
    • Wish lists are fun to look at. Stop dreaming and attract those resources now.

2. (Re)allocate resources

Ask only for what you need to advance your mission. Donors hate to see their hard-earned dollars wasted- don’t you? Brush off the dust and accept the fact that everything doesn’t need to be brand spanking new. Put resources to work in the best way to shape your vision. Making something out of nothing was a key part of Washington’s repertoire. Take calculated risks and start working your own magic now.

3. Identify performance milestones

Include the first baby steps as well as the most daunting fundraising tasks. Draw a simple visual representation of your milestones from start to finish. Monitor your results closely and make changes as you need to.

4. Celebrate when you hit your marks!

As your nonprofit begins to build on its accomplishments, donors will take notice. Other stakeholders will join along. Toot your own horn from time to time. Just don’t celebrate early.  And remember that the quest to get better is never-ending. 

Be grateful in your fundraising victories. Grateful to those who contributed. Grateful of the funds at your disposal. Grateful of the opportunity to help others.

“Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude.”  ~ George Washington


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