Fundraising Academy Blog

What Exactly is Cause Selling, and How is it Different from Fundraising?

Cause Selling vs. Fundraising
Working in nonprofits oftentimes means that we are less concerned with the “bottom line” or “selling” because that sounds like jargon for the corporate world. We generally focus on our cause (which is important) and our mission (which establishes why we fundraise in the first place). But how do we bring these two focus areas together? How do we combine the bottom line with our cause?

Focusing on the cause and our organization’s mission is key to running a healthy nonprofit that cares about the community it serves. However, we also can’t draw a line between the private sector and the nonprofit world. At the end of the day, we still need to raise money (the bottom line) and convince others to support our cause (sell them on our mission).

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Everyone sells,” but this doesn’t have to mean that we’re all telemarketers or that we all have specific quotas to meet. We can sell just about anything: an idea, a mission, a cause, a product, a perspective, etc. And understanding this version of selling is crucial to becoming effective fundraisers, which leads me to our first major question:

What exactly is Cause Selling?

Simply put, Cause Selling is the process of selling the cause you advocate for. Cause Selling can implement storytelling, data, emotion, photos, and more to appeal to donors, pique their interest, and begin to cultivate that donor-fundraiser relationship. Dr. David Lill and Jennifer Lill-Brown, co-authors of Cause Selling: The Sanford Way (2019), provide a more detailed definition below:

Cause Selling is the process of seeking out potential donors who have a need, interest, and passion for your cause, assisting them to recognize and define that need, showing or demonstrating to them how your cause fulfills that need, and inspiring them to donate to your cause.

How is Cause Selling different than fundraising?

It’s not necessary that Cause Selling is different from fundraising; both techniques rely on the end goal of raising funds for a nonprofit. But Cause Selling is more about the “how” in fundraising. It’s a strategy that fundraising professionals can implement to make their fundraising more successful, an approach that relies upon the “relationship model of selling.” 

In a sense, Cause Selling is more focused on creating long-term relationships with donors and the ongoing cultivation of those relationships to boost fundraising efforts for now and for the future. Fundraising is just a small piece of the puzzle, but Cause Selling implements specific strategies to build up long-term fundraising solutions. 

Cause Selling Professionals = Future Focused Fundraisers
Dr. David Lill and Jennifer Lill-Brown, Cause Selling: The Sanford Way

The Cause Selling process consists of four main actions professionals can take to start cultivating long-term relationships with donors: seek, assist, show, inspire.


The first step to being a successful Cause Selling professional is to seek those donors that care about your cause or have an interest in your mission. In other words, this is the part of the process where you find those potential donors.


After you have identified those donors, you can then assist them in realizing their interest in your mission and identifying ways they can support your cause. This allows your nonprofit to take a more active role in helping your donors see themselves in the cause you support.


After helping your donors identify their passion for your cause, the next step is to show them how your organization specifically supports that cause and cultivate their interest in your mission. This is where storytelling can be an important tool to use. What sets your organization apart from others? Why should donors give to you? 


This is where Cause Selling and fundraising come together. After showing your donors how they can connect with your organization, it’s time to inspire them to donate. This is a great way to show them the value of their time, in-kind donation, or monetary gift. What can $100 do for your cause? How can their volunteer hours help? What would $100,000 do? 

Want to learn more about Cause Selling? Register for our Fundraising Academy Accelerate program, starting January 15, 2020!

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