Back to the Blog

The History and Evolution of Fundraising

The History and Evolution of Fundraising


Humans have a long history of supporting each other. We use fundraising as a collective effort to pool resources and support initiatives. As you explore the history and evolution of fundraising, you’ll gain a better understanding of the rise of different campaign techniques.

Fundraising in the Beginning

The word philanthropy has Greek origins and means “love of mankind.” The term refers to voluntary giving and service to benefit others. Early philanthropy links back to religious activities, as groups sought donations for their organization. For example, the Christian tradition of weekly collections dates back to medieval times, as church leaders would solicit gifts from wealthy people. The gifts supported the ministry and people experiencing poverty. As with today, communities would also collect money or resources for communal projects such as developing infrastructure.

Modern fundraising in the US began in the 18th century at Harvard University. The first campaign occurred in 1643, when the university requested donations that would go toward a new college. The campaign raised $500, and fundraiser runners deemed it a “great success.” In the following years, New England leaders suggested that each resident family donate resources or money to support the college. The ongoing voluntary donations supported Harvard’s teaching staff and students.

What Did Early Fundraising Look Like?

In the early days, common forms of fundraising were face-to-face and door-to-door solicitations. Philanthropy balls, benefit concerts, and community events were popular methods too. During face-to-face interactions, a volunteer would collect money and give it to campaign runners. For events, individuals would put donations in collection bins.

This period showcased the importance of personal relationships in gaining support for a cause. Early fundraising thrived on big gifts from affluent individuals or families. In fact, we still see this factor today as major gifts can be crucial to campaigns. However, smaller donations help too!

Campaign runners gave public recognition to donors and encouraged others to give. For instance, they may recognize donors in the local paper or radio announcement. It’s important to note that campaign management was as crucial as it is today, involving personalized messages and constant updates on how the funds make a difference. This open communication nurtured relationships with donors and encouraged them to donate to further causes.

Fundraising in the 20th Century

Thanks to mass communication in the 20th century, the evolution of fundraising included techniques such as direct mail, telephone solicitation, and TV campaigns. Nonprofits reached out to donors through well-crafted letters or phone calls. Using technology allowed campaign runners to reach a broader audience while maintaining personal connections. Ultimately, the strategies let fundraisers quickly raise awareness and increase the number of connections with potential donors.

During the 20th century, major gifts were still critical. Campaign groups made an effort to solicit large-scale donors with personalized appeals. Recognition took on new forms in this era of giving, granting donors the opportunity to name buildings or programs.

Furthermore, regular communication with donors remained a best practice. At this point, campaigns could create newsletters and annual reports and send them to the masses.

Importance of Well-Crafted Messages

Nonprofit organizations rely on supporters to continuously pursue their mission and outreach. Therefore, consistent engagement is one of the most critical aspects of fundraising phone calls and direct mail. Sending personalized messages is an easy way to garner a lot of support.

Well-crafted messages target people based on their specific interests and characteristics rather than generalizations. Fundraising letters must be welcoming and enjoyable to read, making the potential donor reading experience more memorable and increasing the chances of engagement.

Donor phone calls have a formulaic style, and volunteers often follow a script. However, custom messages can benefit campaigns too. For example, alumni outreach volunteers can discuss shared college experiences with donors. When people make connections, it’s easier to solicit donations.

The Big Takeaways

Early fundraising emphasized major gifts from wealthy people and stewardship. Although these are still big components of some campaigns, fundraising is about more than big-ticket gifts. As time went on, campaign runners began to recognize that small gifts make a difference too!

The Digital Revolution

Soliciting donations in the digital age made a significant impact on fundraising. Email campaigns, digital newsletters, and social media platforms connect organizations to supporters.

The rise in crowdfunding platforms allowed people and organizations to raise money from a large number of individuals via the internet. Websites give nonprofits a space to share their stories, explain their impact, and accept online donations. The digital world makes charitable giving more accessible to everyone!

Within the digital revolution, the principles of large gifts, stewardship, and recognition remain critical. People can donate major gifts online with the help of customized giving options.

Additionally, recognition can now reach a global audience, as campaigns can showcase a donor’s name on their website or via social media shoutouts. Organizations can share impact stories through blogs, videos, infographics, and much more!

Digital Giving Is Better

With the availability of automated processes and technology, digital giving is a better option for many people. No one has to pull out cash or write a check to support causes. Apps allow people to send money directly from their bank accounts! The ease of charitable giving makes individuals more likely to support campaigns. After all, donation pages are only a click away.

Artificial Intelligence and Fundraising

As we step into the future, artificial intelligence (AI) is sure to be a relevant part of fundraising. Technology can help nonprofits in many ways, including identifying potential donors, calculating giving patterns, and customizing communication. This tool can also improve campaign statuses by providing timely and relevant updates to supporters. Additionally, AI automates some processes. For example, chatbots can immediately answer donor questions to ensure an easy giving experience.

AI can also find prospective major donors by analyzing data systems to spot giving patterns. This feature can ensure campaign staff and volunteers don’t waste time searching databases. Instead, organizations can create personalized communication plans to reach donors.

AI can support donor recognition too! Imagine an AI-driven system that creates custom messages for supporters. Some systems offer virtual reality experiences that show donors the impact of their gift through creative videos. Ultimately, AI lets campaign runners focus on other aspects of the fundraisers while technology takes care of tedious tasks.

Core Principals Remain the Same

Throughout the history and evolution of fundraising, core principles remain the same. As mentioned, major gifts, stewardship, and recognition drive campaigns and support success. The principals adapt to change as people find ways to nurture and build campaigns. From handwritten notes to AI-automated ones, the evolution of fundraising is a testament to human adaptability; as technology changes, who knows that exciting developments will shape fundraising?

As the leading online donation platform, Vertical Raise can support your campaign. We offer online sports team fundraising and much more! We use email, social media, and text messaging to increase the reach of your campaign. Start your journey with us today!

The History and Evolution of Fundraising