The Rationalization of Fundraising Management Courtney Humphrey

What is a Fundraising Manager?

Fundraising managers are strategic leaders who go beyond running donation campaigns. They develop financial plans, cultivate donor relationships, and oversee all aspects of securing funds for a cause. Their role is crucial across various sectors, from education to healthcare, as they raise money to address critical social issues. Through innovative strategies and relationship building, fundraising managers fuel philanthropic efforts that make a positive impact on the world.

Historical Tactics of a Fundraising Manager

In the early days of fundraising (early 1900s), the focus was on centralized efforts. Community Chests aimed to pool donations and distribute them effectively within a community. This model inspired the creation of the United Way, which continues to address social issues by mobilizing resources.

Snail Mail Raises Funds: Early fundraising tactics relied heavily on personalized communication. Direct-mail fundraising allowed fundraisers to craft letters that resonated with individual donors. This practice, though less personalized today, remains a common strategy.

Heading Towards Modernity: As technology evolved, fundraising methods shifted. Telefundraising, essentially scripted phone calls made by "sales representatives" of the organization, became a popular tactic due to its efficiency and affordability. Telemarketing continues to be a widely used approach in fundraising.

Modern Tactics of a Fundraising Managers

Modern fundraising managers are a far cry from their predecessors who relied solely on community chest models. Today, they leverage a diverse toolbox to reach donors and secure funding.

Creative Events: Fundraising has become an experience! Telethons, the pioneers of extended broadcast fundraising, inspired engaging events like danceathons, walkathons, and even quirky community events like wing-a-thons. These gatherings foster a sense of community and allow people to connect with a cause in a fun and interactive way.

High-Profile Spectacles: Events like the Met Gala showcase how fundraising can transcend its core purpose. This extravagant social gathering raises millions for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it also captures global attention through celebrity appearances and dazzling fashion. The social media buzz and celebrity involvement create a win-win for both the cause and the participants.

Strategic Grant Writing: Fundraising managers don't just rely on individual donations. They craft compelling grant proposals to secure funding for specific projects. These proposals detail the project's goals, its impact on a particular issue, and the budget required. Grants may not individually match large donations, but they are a crucial source of income for many fundraising campaigns.

Rationalization in the World of Fundraising Management

Sociologist George Ritzer's concept of rationalization helps explain the transformation of fundraising management. Rationalization refers to the process of making things more predictable, controllable, calculable, and efficient. In fundraising, this translates to adopting methods that emphasize these principles. Grant writing exemplifies this with its structured proposals and measurable outcomes. Even galas, with their carefully curated guest lists and streamlined event planning, reflect a rationalized approach. While building relationships with donors remains important, these rationalized methods have significantly enhanced the effectiveness of fundraising efforts.


In fundraising, predictability to methods that ensure consistent results and minimize surprises. Grant writing, for example, prioritizes clear goals and measurable outcomes, making donor impact predictable. This allows fundraising managers to assess the potential return on investment (ROI) for grant proposals, enabling them to strategically allocate resources. Similarly, well-defined event formats like walkathons or galas create a predictable fundraising structure. By analyzing data from past events, fundraising managers can estimate potential contributions with greater accuracy. This predictability empowers them to plan and strategize more effectively, allowing them to set realistic fundraising goals and allocate resources efficiently.


Ritzer's concept of "controllability" within rationalization emphasizes exerting greater control over the fundraising process. In this context, fundraising managers implement methods that minimize variables and maximize control over outcomes. Grant writing exemplifies this principle. By requiring detailed proposals outlining project goals and timelines, grantmakers exert control over the type of projects funded. Similarly, carefully curated guest lists at fundraising galas ensure a specific donor demographic is present, allowing for a more controlled fundraising environment. This controllability allows fundraising managers to target specific donor groups and tailor their appeals for maximum impact.


Fundraising has embraced calculability, a key principle of rationalization. Gone are the days of guesswork. Direct mail campaigns use A/B testing to optimize response rates, while online platforms for peer-to-peer fundraising and cause-marketing partnerships provide clear metrics on donor participation and the amount raised. By analyzing this data, fundraising managers can calculate the return on investment (ROI) for each strategy, maximizing the impact of every dollar raised.


Ritzer's concept of "efficiency" emphasizes doing more with less, and fundraising managers have embraced this principle wholeheartedly. Take telemarketing, for instance. While it allows reaching a broad audience, it can be time-consuming. A switch to email marketing blasts targeted messages to a wider audience with less manpower, saving time and resources. Similarly, online donation options eliminate the need for manual check processing, streamlining the contribution process and saving administrative costs. By adopting these efficient methods, fundraising managers can dedicate more resources to relationship building and strategic planning, ultimately maximizing the impact of their fundraising efforts.

Irrationalities: Online Platforms

While offering convenience, online platforms can be susceptible to security breaches, creating donor hesitancy. Donors may be reluctant to share their financial information online, fearing data leaks or fraudulent activity. Furthermore, the sheer volume of content bombarding online users can make it difficult for some causes to stand out. Social media algorithms and crowded inboxes can lead to lower contribution rates, as potential donors simply miss the message.

Irrationalities: Artificial Intelligence

While AI offers new tools like ChatGPT and JustGiving's generative AI to craft compelling narratives, it can create a dehumanized approach to fundraising. These AI tools may seemingly simplify the process by composing personalized stories, but fundraising relies on building genuine relationships with donors – something AI lacks the capacity for. Effective fundraising requires not just attracting donors but also nurturing those relationships, a task beyond the capabilities of current AI. While AI might efficiently increase initial engagement, it cannot replace the human touch essential for long-term success.


In conclusion, fundraising management has undergone a process of rationalization due to technological advancements. This means fundraising has become more efficient (easier to manage), calculable (easier to track results), predictable (more consistent outcomes), and controllable (easier to adjust strategies). While technology offers benefits, it can also make fundraising less personal. Despite this, innovative tools allow fundraisers to reach new donors and raise significant funds. The future of fundraising will likely involve ongoing adaptation to technology, but the core mission remains the same: securing resources to make a positive difference in communities. The success of fundraising will continue to rely on skilled professionals who are passionate about their causes and can build strong relationships with donors.


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