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Everything I Know About Fundraising I Learned From The Peanuts Gang

Guest Author: Daniel Neel of The Fundraising Resource Group

I loved the newspaper when I was a kid. Not because I was so concerned about the world’s events as a tot, or even to check the latest sports scores. No, it was to tear toward the back, with finger-smudging anticipation, to find out what was going on with the Peanuts Gang. Would they finally win a baseball game? Would Snoopy foil the Red Baron at last? Would Charlie finally capture the affection of the Little Red Haired Girl? Okay, maybe I wasn’t so interested in Charlie Brown’s love life, but the Great Pumpkin could appear at any time.

I am not sure that we fully appreciate the genius of Charles Schultz until we consider what he teaches us about fundraising. Yes, fundraising. The life lessons and predicaments of Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy have great application in the pursuit of unlocking the eternal secrets of major gift fundraising (maybe a bit overstated, but stick with me). Here is what I learned about fundraising from the Peanuts Gang:

Be open to a new approach

Consider Charlie and his quest to kick that football. Every year, Lucy dusts off the pigskin and offers to play human kicking tee for Charlie. Same results every year. Many development directors do the same; pull out the same old playbook with predictable results. It may be time to consider a new plan that includes a refocus of time, resources, and efforts to higher impact activities of major gift fundraising, rather than counting on time-devouring events.

Become a trusted advisor

The image of Lucy sitting behind her booth to diagnose the various neuroses of Charlie Brown comes to mind. While I am not suggesting that you sit behind your desk and hang out a sign asking for cash (in fact, just the opposite), I am suggesting that the value you add when meeting the needs of your donors will make you that trusted advisor.

Make every “ask” count

Do you get rocks every time you ask for a treat? Every year at Halloween, all Charlie got was rocks. I give him credit for going out and asking, but his approach could have been better. He should ask in a more thoughtful and specific way. In fact, all he did was hold his hand out expecting a fruitful (or candy-full) return, and ended up with a token gift. The manner in which you prepare, plan, and approach a gift request makes all the difference in the results.

Hope is not a strategy

Then there is Linus who missed the treats altogether on Halloween because of his hopeful rendezvous with the Great Pumpkin. I am not saying you shouldn’t plan big, but hope cannot be your strategy. If your “Great Pumpkin” does not have the attributes of a true major gift prospect for your organization, perhaps that “prospect” is actually a “suspect.” Focus your time, effort and resources on those donors who fit the true profile of a major gift donor: access, capacity and relevance.

It’s all about the story

Linus does teach one of the great lessons. What is it that changed everything about Christmas for the Peanuts Gang? It wasn’t the 1st Prize in the decorating contest that Snoopy received, not the Christmas pageant, not Schroeder’s piano prowess, Lucy the Christmas Queen or Charlie’s droopy Christmas tree. It was the story. When Linus articulated what Christmas is all about it changed everything. The lesson is, it is not enough to simply say, “It’s that time of year to give again.” You have the responsibility to articulate the compelling message of the mission and impact of the gift every time you ask someone to consider giving their resources.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships!

Finally, when building an effective major gift program as the centerpiece of an annual development plan or capital campaign, remember it is about relationships. Sure, we can see the bonds that were built between those crazy Peanuts kids (and animals). But what I am really talking about is what had me racing to the newspaper box every day to be a part of the Peanuts story. If you can build that kind of relationship and anticipation between your donors and the mission of your organization, perhaps you too will be considered a genius.

Daniel Neel

Written by guest blogger Daniel Neel, president of The Fundraising Resource Group.  Daniel is a virtual faculty member of our 501(c)(3) University project and is one of our on-demand webinar presenters.

For more information about The Fundraising Resource Group’s relational fundraising services, visit their website at


Greg McRay, EA

Greg McRay is the founder and CEO of The Foundation Group. He is registered with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent and specializes in 501(c)(3) and other tax exemption issues.

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I think you raise some really good points here. Points that are often overlooked by many fundraisers.


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