Editor’s Note: Douglas Shaw was kind enough to share with us some excerpts from his highly personable and practical upcoming book, The Rules of Fundraising. We’ll be running eight of Doug’s 35 rules here on Fieldnotes in the coming weeks—this is the first—and we encourage you to purchase the book on Amazon (available soon!) to read the rest. Here’s the introduction to the series.

Rule #1: There are rules in fund raising.

There are rules in fund raising, just like there are in quantum physics or any other field of study. Granted, these rules are not as complicated and involve a fairly low level of mathematical ability—or else I’d be searching on LinkedIn for another job.

Let me be clear, following the rules won’t guarantee success, but NOT following them will likely lead you to a much longer learning curve and quite possibly . . . failure.

To enable you to shorten your learning curve, try to visualize five or six veteran fund raisers sitting in the coffee shop of some hotel where a Christian conference is being held. By now, most of them have been consultants for many years. One of them is telling a story about a recent exchange with a client. That’s what consultants do when they get together: They talk shop. The story being told is all too familiar. All the members of the group have experienced this themselves. They know the problem being described and they know just how it’s going to end. Experience is a great teacher, and all of them have a great deal of it. But it’s not just experience that allows them to know how the story is going to end. All of them know there are specific inviolate rules in successful fund raising. The story they’re listening to has revealed the breaking of at least one of the rules. So the story has to end badly.

Until now, no one I know has taken the time to write down the rules of fund raising, or perhaps they haven’t wanted to expose the secrets or rules, fearing it might render their own knowledge less valuable. But, as I see it, the rules existed long before I encountered them and they’ll be around long after I am gone, so let’s see if we can do some good along the way. I must quickly add, however, that this is not a comprehensive listing of the rules of fund raising; they’re only the rules I have been able to gather from colleagues or learn by making my own mistakes thus far.

I think it was pretty early in my career that I realized fund raising is different from other “professions.” There is no standardized governing or accrediting body specifically tasked with training or evaluating the experience and competency of individual fund raisers. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) sets, monitors, and reports on ministry efficiency but not the effectiveness of individuals. The legal profession has the Bar, medical schools have “The Boards,” and accounting has its Generally Accepted Accounting Practices, but philanthropy is largely a self-governed, self-evaluating community. There is the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and more recently the Christian Fundraising Professional (CFP) certifications—and they’re a significant step toward measuring the body of knowledge mastered by fund raisers—but these rules are about behavior rather than knowledge. It’s about what works. It’s about the rules that govern the successful raising of money for the cause you so dearly love.

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