Only one thing you need to know about fundraising

Here’s one of those blog posts, from Queer Ideas, where the title is almost all you need to know: Write a soap opera, not a news story.

There’s more to the post than that, and I hope you’ll read it.

But really, that headline describes what’s wrong with most ineffective fundraising: It’s written as news. Dispassionate, factual news. Its creators think fundraising is a matter of pouring the right information into people’s heads. Once the info-quota is reached, they’ll give.

That’s not how you raise funds. Not even close.

People give when their heart is touched. When they realize the story they’re telling about themselves connects with the story you’re telling about your cause.

It’s that messy, emotional intertwining of hearts and minds. Not a neat aligning of facts and figures.

The only reason fundraising-as-news works at all is that donors sometimes turn it into a soap opera in their heads.

For example, that terrible genre of cancer fundraising that goes something like this: Last year, 4,511 people in King County were diagnosed with cancer…

The donor’s head is saying (if she paid any attention at all) Cancer is too big. I can’t do a thing about it. But her heart starts to kindle: She remembers her own brushes with cancer: Those long nights on chemo. The promise she whispered while a loved one finally slipped away. That empty place in life, like a missing tooth, where her loved one used to be. She tells herself these stories and realizes she can, she must do something to defy the disease, because there’s hope in that defiance.

A better fundraiser would skip that first step and move with the donor straight to the second one. With a soap opera filled with people. Not news filled with facts.


Comments

4 responses to “Only one thing you need to know about fundraising”

  1. You’re spot on. But when it comes to many national health charities the technique you describe is typical. No story, some facts and figures and people give, because well, we’ve all been touched by cancer, or diabetes, or heart disease. But it’s also why national health charities tend to have the lowest average gifts. Perhaps some testing with real stories that donors can relate to may help boost that average gift. Or perhaps they’ve done the testing and have found it doesn’t move the needle for them or is too costly, since a story takes more time (and material) than the typical single or double buck slip appeal.

  2. You’re spot on. But when it comes to many national health charities the technique you describe is typical. No story, some facts and figures and people give, because well, we’ve all been touched by cancer, or diabetes, or heart disease. But it’s also why national health charities tend to have the lowest average gifts. Perhaps some testing with real stories that donors can relate to may help boost that average gift. Or perhaps they’ve done the testing and have found it doesn’t move the needle for them or is too costly, since a story takes more time (and material) than the typical single or double buck slip appeal.

  3. Thank you for helping me see that less is more.

  4. Thank you for helping me see that less is 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 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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