The 3 P’s of Fundraising Success

Being successful in fundraising—even wildly successful—is within the reach of every nonprofit organization. It truly is. As I write this, I can almost hear the sighs of those who work tirelessly with only modest results as well as the intonations of the cynics with their message of the glass-half-full. But it’s true. The key to that success is mastering what I call the “3 P’s”—principle, paradigm and process.


A principle, by definition, is a rule or concept that is unchanging and universal in its application. A perfect example is the law of gravity. We all accept this principle—even take it for granted. We all operate within its sphere—whether or not we choose to do so. So it is with fundraising. There are certain concepts so fundamental, so broadly applicable, they influence and shape all fundraising efforts—whether those involved understand them or are even aware of their existence. Taken together, these are The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising®. Here they are:

1. Donors are the Drivers: The foundational principle for all sustainable fundraising. Donors drive philanthropy through their personal values and the visions they share with the organizations they support. They drive philanthropy as individuals provide over 80% of all philanthropic dollars.

2. Begin at the Beginning: The starting point for all sustainable fundraising efforts is the formulation of a clear and forceful mission that seeks to better the lives of others. The communication of this mission must be relevant and meaningful to donors.

3. Leadership Leads: Leading by example is critical for fundraising programs to achieve both sustainability and scale. The leadership of your charitable organization—its governing body and administration—sets the pace for prospective donors by its own commitment of time, talent and treasure.

4. Learn & Plan: Before seeking funds from others, learn who your prospective donors are and what they value. Make your plans to approach your investors using this knowledge and understanding as your guide in your fundraising.

5. Work from the Inside Out: Seek gifts from your prospective donors and investors by first approaching those that are closest to your organization by relationship and reason to give.

6. Divide & Grow: Sustainable fundraising programs grow and scale by developing mutually beneficial relationships with all donors and encouraging each of them to mature their giving to their full financial ability

7. Renew & Refresh: Key to sustainability for a fundraising program is the renewal of current donors. Achieving true fundraising potential is impossible without a high renewal rate. Acquiring new donors keeps the donor pool “refreshed” as donors drop out for a variety of reasons.

8. Invest, Integrate & Evaluate: Sustainable fundraising programs require a consistent and strategic investment in time and resources. Integrating all the components of your organization’s fundraising program from a donor’s perspective is essential. Continual evaluation and improvement of your fundraising program moves your program to scale.

When we become aware of the principles that are operating in our fundraising environments—with or without our permission— we have made the first, and most important step, in being successful in fundraising. We do so, because without an understanding of these principles, our odds of success become those of the lottery. Our efforts bear fruit if they are congruent with the operating principles. Our efforts are stunted or fail if they are contrary or in opposition to these fundamental truths.

Let’s look at a practical example. Principle 6: Divide & Grow, simply stated, says that fundraising programs scale and grow by developing mutually beneficial relationships with all donors and encouraging each of them to mature their giving to their full financial ability. In other words, don’t approach or treat all donors the same. Soliciting everyone for the same gift in the same manner, at the same time will not achieve lasting or scalable success.


Once we fully understand the principles that shape our fundraising outcomes, we next need to look to the second “P”—paradigm. A paradigm is nothing more than the mental construct or framework in which we view our work—our “worldview.” In our example, such a paradigm could be our understanding of our donors and potential investors and how they relate to the values, mission and aspirations of our organization. It could also be the demographics and giving histories of our supporters. It could be more. The key is to effectively define that paradigm using the principles that are operating in your particular situation.


Once we know the principle or principles that govern our fundraising outcomes and we have taken that knowledge to develop a paradigm or set of mental constructs that accurately describe our situation, we are ready to select, execute and subsequently evaluate the third “P”, the process, that will yield the positive, expanding outcomes and over-the-goal success that we so desire.

The process is where most of us live from day to day. It is that set of executable steps to which we devote ourselves to doing better and more of, to yield those critical dollars for our programs.

In our example, a well-designed process might be a set of executable steps that carefully identify the strength of the donor’s relationship to our organization, accurately track the frequency and substance of our contacts with that donor, trigger appropriate and timely gift requests, accurately record those investments, and provide meaningful feedback to the donor. Such a process requires the right tools. The right donor management software, judiciously chosen, is a powerful way to facilitate these steps. This is a critical piece of the success formula. No one would dispute this.

The rub comes when we decide our process before understanding the principles or developing an effective paradigm. It’s easy to do. The voices of “process” are shrill and insistent. “Do this.” “Say that.” “Tweet more.” “Ask more powerfully.” “Communicate more.” Our email-boxes are filled to the brim with information and offers of the latest tools and techniques that promise fundraising success. Fundraisers are often under tremendous pressure to succeed. Who has time to stop and ponder?

The 3 “P’s” of fundraising success are principle, paradigm and process. All three are required. Understanding all three and getting them in the right order is what makes your success a sustainable and expanding one. The beauty of a principle is that is applies to everyone—large organizations as well as small ones. The paradigm is particular to your situation, and so, immediately available to you. Once these two are firmly in place, you’ll find the task to identify the right tools and techniques—the process—an easy one. They will also be ones that your organization can successfully implement and afford.

Fundraising success is available to all. It’s just a matter of getting your “P’s” in order!

©2012, M. E. Grace & Associates, Inc. Used by permission.

Larry C. Johnson is a widely-respected fundraising consultant and speaker and is the author of the bestselling book, The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising: Transforming Fundraising Anxiety into the Opportunity of a Lifetime, Aloha: 2011, available at Learn more about Larry at


Sign up for our newsletter packed full of nonprofit help!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Scroll to Top

Wait, don't go away empty handed.

Join 50,000 other nonprofits in getting the BEST nonprofit tips, tools, and how-to guides delivered right to your inbox!

Subscribe to our newsletter: