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First Lady of Philanthropy  




The Fine Art of Fundraising
Secrets for Successful Volunteers

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“One person with passion is better than 40 people merely interested.”

-- E. M. Forster


America has a big heart ready to take on the challenges and realities of our world today. Close to three billion people worldwide live on two dollars a day, and more than one billion live on one dollar a day. Children die every day due to preventable causes such as hunger, disease, and lack of water. Luckily, we have the information, knowledge, technology, and resources to bring about a new moral energy and commitment to make a difference.

Philanthropy has become a way of life in America. Today nonprofit organizations answer innumerable needs and are advocates for many causes. Competition for the philanthropic dollar is intense because the same group of donors is called upon repeatedly to support a variety of causes in the community.

What John D. Rockefeller once described as “the business of benevolence” requires a concentrated effort involving imagination, hard work, and keen business sense. To become a fundraiser, you must believe in and be passionate about a cause. Understand the mission of the group and your reason for commitment. Once you determine this is where you want to dedicate your energy and time, you can bring about innovative and creative problem solving solutions and ideas for change. Trust your intuition when making choices. Follow your dream and create a vision to accomplish it.

Remember, volunteering is part of your life—not your whole life, so keep it in perspective. Make every project mean something. Try to be selective when choosing projects so you won’t burn out. Saying “yes” when your plate is full will limit your effectiveness. The responsibility comes from the top, so make your chain of command short. Keep your committee’s attention. Think lean with a limited budget, make every dollar count. Ask yourself, “How do I get others to work with me to support a worthwhile cause?” Your knowledge, combined with the efforts of people who will touch the hearts of others, will inspire support for your cause.

Reggie Bibbs was born with Neurofibromatosis (NF). He has inoperable tumors all over his body, and yet every day is positive for him because he is valued for his contributions. Despite his medical problems, Reggie’s quality of life continues to improve. Although there is no cure for the disease, through research the genetic cause has been discovered, allowing scientists to learn more about how to control it. Through genetic research and philanthropy, treatment options are becoming available. For children with NF, barriers to education and treatment are being minimized.

When you sign on to chair a fundraising committee for a cause such as this one, give committee members the opportunity to be involved. Engage the mind, talent, and spirit of each volunteer. Tap into the strength of others, and they will work harder as a team. Think of yourself as a coach. Always recognize the contributions of others. Social change occurs when individuals realize their effectiveness in making things happen collectively. Everyone involved must own the outcome. Team motivation can spread to in-kind donors. Work collaboratively with others to make a difference. And, when working with others, show respect. Make them feel like equal members of the team.

Appreciate the value of volunteers, their commitment, and their creativity. Learning to be a team member and developing good verbal and writing skills is key to the success of any fundraising event. When giving of your time, make it count. Deliver on your promises and keep to a timeline. Don’t lose focus. Stay committed until your goal is realized.

Volunteerism asks that we reach outside ourselves. You have to be passionate about what you do, because if you take on a project for any ulterior reason, you won’t achieve success. You have to be yourself and recognize your own unique characteristics and talents. You have to know what you can do and what you can’t do. If you do nothing to benefit others, you do nothing to benefit yourself.

By sharing my experiences as a volunteer, I hope to ignite your passion, encourage your creative resources, and empower you to follow your own dream.


The desire to effect a change and improve the quality of life for those less fortunate lies beneath the surface in most of us. For me, community service has been my calling, and I am fulfilling my purpose when I am in the process of helping others. Volunteerism remains a cherished part of my life. Every day brings new opportunities to touch someone with an act of kindness, patience, and understanding. For more than twenty-five years, my passion has not dimmed.

My mentor, my beloved grandfather Jakie Freedman, was best known as an early pioneer in Las Vegas and a high-stakes risk-taker. In his teens, he left Russia to come to the United States to pursue the American dream. He loved Texas but eventually left to be a part of the boom out west where he built his place in the sun, the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As a young girl, I spent summer vacations working in my grandfather’s executive offices, where I first learned about giving. Along with other hotel owners, my grandfather was always involved in campaigns for deserving and worthwhile causes, such as Saint Jude’s Hospital. Besides his philanthropy, he was a networker supreme, which kept us in the company of movie stars, columnists, politicians, and business leaders. With Las Vegas as my special window of opportunity, I became a keen observer of people.

This is where my charitable passion and management style began. Anyone who plays a game of chance will tell you that the key to winning isn’t luck or nerve. It’s management—how you manage your finances, time, and expenses. Nothing encourages concentration more than having all your chips on the line. Although I wasn’t allowed to gamble, I learned lessons in showmanship and charitable planning. I discovered that a successful fundraising effort requires a certain wisdom. These are the secrets I learned to successful fundraising:


              1. Be passionate about the cause you champion.

              2. Create a vision and a plan.

              3. Pioneer new ideas.

              4. Set realistic goals—and surpass them.

              5. Expand your reach.

              6. Make a commitment.

              7. Motivate others to the cause.

              8. Put together a strong team.

              9. Decide on a format and follow through.

              10. Follow the timeline.

              11. Be proactive—initiate.

              12. Practice zero budget.

              13. Adopt change—take risks.

              14. Stand out from the crowd.

              15. Embrace challenges.

              16. Emphasize the details.

              17. Spread the word.

              18. Share the good works.



In the end, knowing what motivates people to participate in worthwhile causes doesn’t matter much. The doing is what really matters. I hope to inspire people who want to make a difference at every level. Just making the commitment to change the dynamics of a situation is personally rewarding. Your deed may be a simple act but one with powerful results. The memory of an ordinary childhood experience may spark magical ideas that become your passion and can change the world. Believe in your own can-do ability, accept challenges, stay focused, and give your best. Starting early and being well prepared is a game plan for success. The willingness to give extra effort to meet challenges creates an ethic for achieving goals. You’ll realize you have the power to make changes for the betterment of others. Seek to learn at every available opportunity from inspiring role models. Fundraising is hard work, but it is very uplifting. It is how people know me. They always say, “If anybody can do it, you can.”

All of us must ask of ourselves who we really are and who we want to become. My best advice is to answer your calling—connect your best talent and skills to your values and beliefs. Bring your mind in sync with your soul. Let your moral compass guide you on the path that’s right for you. Dare to dream—you never know where opportunities will lead you—and don’t be afraid to take risks. Always follow the language of your heart. Believe that you can make a difference, and that belief will bring about change.


Emmis Books ● $16.99 ● Paperback ● 220 pages ● ISBN 1-57860-180-0


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CAROLYN FARB is a fundraising visionary who has raised more than 30 million dollars in her efforts. She has been featured widely in magazines and on television and is the author of How to Raise Millions: Helping Others and Having a Ball! She lives in Houston, Texas.

Everything you need to know to raise money for your cause, from the “fundanista” who has raised more than $30 million.

© Carolyn Farb. All rights reserved