There was a time when these words meant something different, but linguistic laziness has now made them all interchangeable. Unfortunate, because we should understand the differences and how they affect our organization.
Fundraising was the noun, fund raising was the verb, and the hyphenated form fund-raising was the adjective, as were the normal constructions for such words in the past. In other words, fundraising is what we do, fund raising is how we do it, and fund-raising is the influence on other aspects of our organization’s operations, ranging from how we deal with callers to how we conduct performance evaluations, and everything in between.
Fundraising, it is what we do. We are in the business of fundraising and/or fundraising is an important part of our business. No matter what our primary focus may be, fundraising permeates our work so as to integrate messages, concepts, procedures, etc. And if it doesn’t…it should. Fundraising is not about raising funds, actually. The acquisition of funds is merely a way to measure a greater intention: bring people and their varied resources to the support of our organization’s cause, mission and vision. If the focus of fundraising is raising funds, you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle. Check Dollars Are Great, Donors Are Better for a video take on what I’m getting at.
Fund raising is a verb, and not one of condition. Remember verbs? They convey action or condition, and fund raising is an action verb. It involves doing things: listening, presenting, listening, planning, listening, asking, listening, connection, listening, writing…you get the point. Even the ubiquitous annual fund process that can find an alumnus stranded on a deserted island involves action…or it should. The letters or calls associated with this type of fundraising should include a call to action, should use action verbs and active voice, and should inspire recipients to move on the call(s) made available to them. Every opportunity to communicate should be used as an opportunity to connect, listen and engage…the money will come.
Fund-raising is an adjective, a word that modifies and clarifies the noun that follows it. “We are organizing a fund-raising event,” for example, or “the fund-raising goal for our event is $100,000.” The latter example differentiates the financial goal from the multiple other goals that should be part of the planning and implementation of said event. The former clarifies the primary purpose, but hopefully not the only purpose of the event. We must be careful to not attach this modifier to every operation or every action. Every contact with an alumnus should not be a fund-raising step; every interaction with a community leader should not have a fund-raising objective; every conversation with a donor should not be a fund-raising moves action. And so on.
The “permission” and clarification for a team to differentiate these three words—fundraising, fund raising and fund-raising must start from the top and move through an entire organization. When they supersede your organization’s real cause and mission, you’re on the wrong path; and, when they stand isolated and not part of the organization’s culture, concepts and planning, its health will falter.