Talking with CEOs and board members at conferences and workshops the past couple of months has produced a troubling refrain. Whether their organizations are large or small, when they see me coming, their comments have been in the same vein: "We don't really need the money that badly, we're just worried that someday this or that funding source will dry up or go away and we will wish we had been fundraising." Or, "We're so spread out, having just merged/acquired operations in multiple counties, how do we make a case for starting a fundraising program, let alone justify the expense of hiring staff to run it? It just seems like a lot of work and expense for very little return."
Pressing through this first level of comments often yields a deeper concern: "While it feels like we should be doing fundraising, we really aren't all that concerned about the money. What we need most, if we are to move beyond being the quiet, taboo, 'best kept secret' and truly fulfill our mission, is for individuals in our broader community to become as passionate about mental health as they are about health, fitness, the environment, or any other hot issue today. We can't solve these problem on our own. We can't attract the kind of engaged board members we want and need if we don't get beyond the first circle of 'obvious suspects' to spread the word to others."
Try for a moment to forget everything you've known or thought about as "fundraising"—all the baggage you've got about being tricked, manipulated, made to feel guilty, strong-armed, or entertained, albeit for a good cause. Forget the times you've felt uncomfortable asking friends for money for your thing, knowing it's just a matter of time before they come back asking you to reciprocate.
Now remember a time when you gave money after you had been truly engaged in a cause, because there was a real personal connection there. Think of an organization that you have been giving to for many years, even when they forget to send you the proper thank-you note or misspell your name. Why do you keep giving there? Not because you were forced to give, even subtly, but because you want to give there. You're already engaged in their mission. What they're up to in the world truly matters to you.
As soon as you drop the old-style definition of "fundraising" and substitute "true engagement in the mission," you will see why, yes, even an organization like yours—one that does not really need the money now—needs to get started in a major way, focusing on engaging that next concentric circle of individuals in your community. If you are ever to break the cycle of best-kept-secret and gain real advocates at the legislature and at the ballot box, that engagement is key.
Call it whatever you like, it's time to get started.