The curse of unremarkable fundraising

Why is fundraising so hard?

One reason: We barely give people a reason to give, much less talk about us and spread the word for us. Really. Can you imagine normal, sane humans saying any of these things?


  • “You’ve got to hear this: I can give some amount of money and this charity will use it to research a disease and provide services for people who have the disease!”
  • “Get this: When you buy your symphony tickets, you can add extra money to the cost of your tickets, and that will help cover the symphony’s budget that isn’t entirely covered by ticket sales!”
  • “Hey, here’s something exciting: You write a check for some amount, and it will go to fight the root causes of poverty — a problem so huge that no matter how much you give, your part is microscopic.”

People don’t talk about us because the fundraising propositions we put in front of them are just so boring there’s nothing to say. They give because they care about the causes. But there’s no additional magic that might get them to tell their friends.

Compare that to what a donor might have to say about giving to DonorsChoose.org:

You search through a database of classroom needs, find one you like, then write a check. A while later, you get a package of real live thank-you notes from the kids.

Now that’s remarkable. There are a number of organizations like that with remarkable offers. They’re getting remarked about. And they’re growing.

The rest of the nonprofit sector? Not so much.

Why does it take upstart organizations to be remarkable? The established nonprofits have to infrastructure, brains, and funding to do it — but most don’t even come close.

Are we so married to our lazy and inflexible funding models that we can’t change them even though that means not growing?

Is our contempt for donors and their needs so deep that we’re unwilling to meet them?

Are we so unimaginative that we just can’t see doing things in a different, better way?

Are we so afraid of change that we refuse to do it?

Of course, there are signs of hope, imagination, and great thinking happening in large and small ways all over. But if I were in charge — we’d make it fundraising priority #1 to put unremarkable fundraising behind us.


Comments

4 responses to “The curse of unremarkable fundraising”

  1. It’s easier for upstart organizations to be remarkable, because they are starting with a clean slate. Large, established organizations have have years of momentum and other baggage that makes it harder to go in a new direction.
    It’s a change that has to happen, but acknowledging why it’s hard might help organizations start to compensate (assuming they agree the current direction is not fruitful.)

  2. It’s easier for upstart organizations to be remarkable, because they are starting with a clean slate. Large, established organizations have have years of momentum and other baggage that makes it harder to go in a new direction.
    It’s a change that has to happen, but acknowledging why it’s hard might help organizations start to compensate (assuming they agree the current direction is not fruitful.)

  3. Dear Jeff,
    Thanks for your honesty on unremarkable fundraising.
    I feel that all too often fundraisers are expected to just come out with fabulous ideas at the drop of a hat.
    Then if the idea flops, they’re fired.
    If the idea is good, the ED will take the credit.
    So it’s really lose/lose from the fundraiser’s perspective. People are not allowed to make mistakes.
    So they trundle along in mediocrity until they burn out, because they were never encouraged to innovate.
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  4. Dear Jeff,
    Thanks for your honesty on unremarkable fundraising.
    I feel that all too often fundraisers are expected to just come out with fabulous ideas at the drop of a hat.
    Then if the idea flops, they’re fired.
    If the idea is good, the ED will take the credit.
    So it’s really lose/lose from the fundraiser’s perspective. People are not allowed to make mistakes.
    So they trundle along in mediocrity until they burn out, because they were never encouraged to innovate.
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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