The Organizer #22 | Fundraising

How do I figure out how to raise more money? Visualize the future you are trying to create and study the past to learn from fundraising successes and failures.

Raise more money by time travelling

When you want to raise more money, lots of people have lots of advice to offer you.

“Hire a fundraiser!”

“Do more fundraising!”

How often have we heard those words? They are the clarion call of the board member staring at the latest budget. They are the words of wisdom your trusted advisor delivers to you over coffee. They’re the stern lecture you give yourself on a Monday morning.

They aren’t wrong, those words … but they aren’t necessarily right either. It’s kind of like declaring, “We need to help more people!” or “Let’s do more things!”

Sure. Great. But also … what?

Is this the best advice you can get?

What you really need to do is time travel

Time travel might be for you if:

  • You are not hitting fundraising targets
  • Your head is swimming with fundraising tasks and you don’t know where to focus
  • You are spending money as fast as you can raise it

Time travel is definitely for you if:

  • You are a one-person fundraising team
  • Your fundraising work is done by staff who have lots of other responsibilities

What is time travel?

Time travel is when you put yourself in a moment other than this one. You might jump a year into the future, a week into the future, or a month into the past. Maybe you spend a day there or just a few minutes. You might go alone or you might go with others.

No matter what, time travel helps you raise money.

Visiting the future

The further you go into the future, the more visionary your thinking will be. What is the world be like? What’s your organization doing to carry out its mission? What resources makes those actions possible?

Then you jump back to the half-way point between here and there. What are you doing to bring this vision of the future to life? Which programs need to be develop? What funding partners do you need to find? How, exactly, are you raising more money? Milestones come into focus and a path starts to form.

From the half-way point, you can start to see how the next few years might unfold. You jump to this year, this month, and even this week.

That’s time-travelling: going into the future, taking a look around, returning gradually to today, and marking a trail from there to here.

The visionary part of time travel is important, but path-building part is the real power move.

Examining the past

To raise more money, you should also travel backwards in time. Did we actually do the things we said we were going to do? Did we achieve the results we expected?

Going back in time is how we figure out which activities make a difference, how much time things will take. Studying the past helps us see new opportunities. It gives us advanced warning when things that used to work aren’t working as well anymore.

When we visit the past, we learn. This is how the work gets easier, how we get better at it.

Live in the present

Visiting the future and the past will help you focus on the actions that will make the biggest difference. Time travel is a powerful tool that way. But it isn’t everything.

Most of your fundraising hours should be spent doing stuff in the present. That means interacting with other people, preparing for interactions, or following up on interactions.

It can be fun to sit around with colleagues and advisors dreaming about the future. It can be productive to analyze data or revise plans and strategies. But time travel has its limits.

One sure-fire way to create conflict is to have a conversation about raising more money with someone who is talking about a different time period.

If an advisor is waxing philosophical about a vision of the future while you are trying to explain you’re underwater with overdue fundraising tasks today, you won’t hear each other.

The advisor might think you’re stuck “in the weeds” or “can’t see the bigger picture”. Meanwhile, you are frustrated because the advisor seems completely disconnected from reality.

In any given conversation, you want to talk about the same era as others – the future, the past, the present.

Leaders time travel

Over the course of a year, you will time travel often. Time travel is a big part of healthy planning, budgeting, and management cycles.

People who refuse to talk about the past, present, and future can’t manage, can’t lead, and can’t govern. Without an analysis of past performance, a vision is fiction. You will be overwhelmed and frustrated by low-return fundraising tasks without a vision. Without spending time doing the actual fundraising work carefully and thoughtfully, you won’t achieve your goals.

Time travel pays. Bon voyage.

How to communicate your fundraising journey to others

  • Gantt charts are the classic way of listing a series of tasks, the order in which they need to be accomplished, and the dates by which things need to be finished.
  • Hive has free project management tier that lets you build and export clean, easy to read Gantt charts.
  • Miro has options ranging from Gantt templates to basic flow charts to blank whiteboards.
  • If you prefer tactile objects, nothing beats a fresh packet of sticky notes and some markers.

The Organizer is a weekly newsletter for people working to create equitable and sustainable communities. Whether you are part of a nonprofit, a charity, or a social enterprise, this newsletter is for you.

Each week, we explore one aspect of social impact work. We answer a common “How do I …?” question, and we tell you about a tool that will help make your work a little easier. Subscribe for free at