Standing on the Iceberg

April 11, 2017



Written By: Bruce

By Bruce Berglund

Over the years I’ve had the great joy of working with hundreds of non-profit CEOs/Executive Directors (EDs) and development staff. A few years ago, a young executive director called me. He was frustrated and worried that he wasn’t doing his job. Why? He wasn’t bringing in enough big checks.

I encouraged him knowing that he was doing all the right things. He had identified his Top 20 prospects and that he was working the engagement plan with each prospect.

He then shared that the previous director would routinely come back with large checks and pledges after lunches and dinners. This new director’s experience was very different. His lunches and coffee dates had brought back very few checks in his first year in his new role.

This process we call fundraising is best depicted by an iceberg. What we see of the iceberg is just the 10%-20% above the water. The vast majority of the iceberg sits below the water, “supporting” the top of the structure seen by the world. What my young executive director friend wasn’t seeing was the years of relational investment the previous director had made with donors.

The iceberg is a great illustration for our fundraising work. The vast majority of our interactions with donors should be activities related to cultivation and stewardship. This work goes often unseen and may even seem trivial. But it matters.

It’s getting the donor’s name spelled correctly.

It’s recognizing gifts in a timely manner.

It’s reporting back what you did with their generosity.

It’s being interested in their story.

It’s having interactions that have nothing to with asking for money.

It’s knowing their interests in your organization and mission.

It’s engaging donors in their own philanthropic journey through their gifts to your organization.

All of these actions lurk under the waterline, largely unseen. Ultimately, these actions determine your fundraising success.

So the next time you see one of those “grip and grin” check presentation pictures, envision them standing on top of the iceberg – the foundation that made the gift possible.

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8 responses to “Standing on the Iceberg”

  1. steve rasmussens says:

    A message long overdue! Paying attention to the details do enable bigger things to happen…Good thoughts to start the morning.

  2. John Alexander says:

    Thanks for the fine illustration and reminders, Bruce.

    • Bruce Bruce Berglund says:

      Thanks John!

      • Michael Bodenhausen says:

        Great message even for those on top of the iceberg. At times it becomes too easy and we forget why it is easy. I texted a supporter of ours for aquatic wheelchairs and he responded with “Absolutely, how much would you like?” He dropped by a with $2,500 check the next day. Its about the journey not the response. Conversely I’m cultivating a new donor and expected same results, forgetting its not my timeline and he’s not ready.

        Great message and thanks for keeping me grounded.

        • Bruce Bruce Berglund says:


          So good to see your note! So proud of your wonderful journey with philanthropy my friend!


  3. Bruce,
    Great advice to folks new to the profession and those who have gone to new NPO’s, its all about building relationships, trust and the donor having the capacity and having patience..Amazing things can happen,but it takes time and trust!!