Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Five Stages of Nonprofit Board Fundraising

In the 1960s, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, working with terminally ill patients, hypothesized her five stages of grief, popularized in her 1969 publication of On Death and Dying. Since that time, the Kübler-Ross model has been applied to just about any form of personal loss, including job loss, divorce, death of a loved one, surviving natural disasters, and even incarceration.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that nobody had yet applied the Kübler-Ross model to fundraising by nonprofit boards of directors! So, here, without further ado, are the Five Stages of Nonprofit Board Fundraising:
  1. Denial - "I don't think board members should be required to fundraise." - "I don't know anybody with money anyway." - "I was asked to join the board for my other skills." - "Don't we have staff for that?" - "We're a nonprofit, we're supposed to live on the financial edge!"
  2. Anger - "My friends will hate me if I add them to the mailing list!" - "If I give myself, why do I also have to 'get'?"- "I give so much of my time, you want my money too?" - "If the staff were doing their jobs, this wouldn't be necessary." - "It's the politicians' fault that we can't raise enough money!" - "I never should have joined this board."
  3. Bargaining - "If I serve on the audit committee, can I get out of working on the event?" - "I brought in my old PC for the intern to use, that's worth something, right?" - "How about if I just mention I'm on the board in my family Christmas letter, that'll save you on printing and postage!" - "Tell you what, I know the name of a foundation that makes grants..."
  4. Depression - "The economy is going to clobber us anyway, so why bother?" - "We can't compete with all those nationally known nonprofits." - "Nobody really gets our mission anyway." - "There's no point in even asking before the next election cycle, or two..." - "I read in NPQ that even the big guys can't raise any money these days."
  5. Acceptance - "Do we have any brochures I can bring to my Rotary meeting?" - "Let me find out about my company's corporate philanthropy policy" - "Hey, if we each commit to just a small amount we can close that budget gap!" - "How can we expect others to spread the word and raise money for our cause if we're not willing to do it ourselves?"
As Dr. Kübler-Ross wrote, not everybody passes through all five stages, and they don't always progress in this order. Frequently people get stuck in one stage or another. Do you know any board members who are stuck on denial or anger? Of course you do: every board has these people. The important thing is to recognize the stages, and help your board move along to Acceptance and Success.


  1. Great post! Very insightful. I will be sharing this one. Thanks.