Fundraising and Martin Luther King. Jr.

6 Fundraising Principles You Can Learn from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

     This article outlines six fundraising principles you can learn from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a middle-class lifestyle while shaping a movement. He is best known as a prominent civil rights leader of the 1950’s and 60’s. In 1964 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent activism. He is probably most famous for his moving speeches, most notably his I Have a Dream speech.

     But have you ever pondered how he financed his movement and what made him a powerful fundraiser?

Martin Luther King, Jr. As Fundraiser

     Martin Luther King, Jr. raised money by working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where he received a modest salary, donations from churches he preached in, and sales from the five books he wrote before his death. But what made him a great fundraising leader?

 He Asked

And he asked a lot. He asked everywhere he went. He understood that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

He Talked About Succeeding

He told people about the impact they had made so far and how much more the movement could accomplish with their financial support. He invited people to join him on the road to success.

 He Promoted the Cause, Not the Organization

     He focused on his mission. He excited others about being part of a cause, not an organization.

 He Set an Example

     He walked the talk. For example, he donated 100 percent his Nobel Peace Prize winnings to the cause he believed in and worked so hard for.

He Collaborated with Others

     He knew he could not accomplish his goals on his own. He leveraged his efforts by partnering with others—other people, churches, and civil rights leaders. They all pooled their resources and became more than the sum of their individual efforts. This synergy strengthened the movement—and the financial support for it.

 He Was Financially Ethical

     He didn’t hoard what he raised. He took no more than what he needed to support himself and his family, leaving the rest for the cause. He did what he said with the money and reported back on his results.

How You Can Be Like Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Ask for What You Need

     Don’t be afraid to ask. Calm your butterflies by acknowledging and facing your emotions. View your nervousness as your mind’s way of revving you. Remember the donor is a human who engages in the same daily tasks that you do. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?“  If  your prospect says no, you’re not going to be any worse off than you are now.

     And I’ve never met a prospect who has been offended by being asked for too much. Ask for what you need within their capacity to give. Don’t be afraid to ask for their best gift.

Focus on Success

     Very few people want to fund a sinking ship. Don’t position your agency as struggling to make ends meet with no relief in sight. While a few persons may give you money if you approach them that way, you’ll discourage most people.

     Instead, dream about how many lives your organization can change with adequate financial support. Think about the impact you and your donors have made so far and how much more your organization can accomplish with more people on board. Talk about what your donors have accomplished so far and what your goal is moving forward. Ask the person to whom you’re talking to join you on the road to mission achievement.

Promote Your Cause, Not Your Nonprofit

     Remember the goal is to raise money to support the mission. The end goal is mission advancement, not money. So, when you meet with donors, take the focus off money you want to raise and onto the impact your nonprofit can make. Instead of framing the conversation around money, frame it around your agency’s mission and your passion for it. Focus on telling your story: why you got involved, why you stay involved, and why you increased your involvement. Let your eyes shine with excitement. Then invite them to share their story with you.

Set an Example

     What you do says far more to people about what your values are than what you say. If you are doing the asking, make sure you have already given. If you are asking for their best gift, make sure your donation has also been sacrificial.

Collaborate with Others

     More and more donors want nonprofits to realize efficiencies in their operations and collaborate with others who do the same thing or serve the same people that you do.  Collaborations leverage limited resources, reducing costs and increasing net income. Let’s face it—there are only so many resources available and competition for those resources is fierce. When nonprofits compete rather than collaborate with one another, resources are wasted on duplication of services. Think in terms of collaborating with others to share resources instead of always directly receiving them. Let the law of synergy kick in.

Be Ethical

      Be above reproach, proving it through your transparency. Be open with your community. Share your audits and 990s on your website. Let people see third-party evaluations of your operations. It only helps your reputation in the community.

     And do not pay your fundraisers on a commission basis. I know a fair amount of salespeople are paid on a commission basis. In those cases, the companies’ profits benefit the business owner(s), not the public. When the money goes for the inurement of the public, different standards apply. It is unethical in the field to pay fundraisers a percentage of funds raised.

Wapping It Up

     As an inspirational leader, Martin Luther King. Jr.’s efforts changed the world. His fundraising skills financed his efforts. And isn’t that what you, as a nonprofit leader, strive to do? Emulate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s prowess. Learn from a great fundraiser.

Next Steps

     If you aspire to be a great leader, specifically regarding fundraising, marketing, staff motivation, and board relations, come to my Nonprofit Star Quest live virtual summit to be held March 7-9. Register today for free at

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