Why donors don’t talk about you — and how you can give them something to talk about

The one type of marketing that kicks the stuffing out of direct marketing in effectiveness for cost is word-of-mouth marketing: People talking about you to other people they know.

When word-of-mouth is pulling for your organization, you basically can raise money for free. (Not quite all the way free, but nearly so.)

So why doesn’t everybody just deploy word-of-mouth all the time?

Well, a lot do. It just turns out that word-of-mouth marketing is extremely difficult and error-prone.

Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! has some analysis on this: 3 common word of mouth mistakes. Those mistakes:


  1. You’re not worth talking about
  2. You’re forgetting to ask
  3. You’re making it hard to talk

That first one is the big deal, and the hardest to change.

If you’re several organizations doing something that’s almost exactly the same as some others, and the only difference you can claim are some broad abstractions and design guidelines cooked up by Brand Experts — you are not worth talking about. So people won’t talk about you.

That’s not to say what you do isn’t wonderful, important, needed, and worth supporting. It just means people have no reason to make you part of the daily conversation.

There are three things you can do that might get tongues wagging:


  1. Focus. Zero in on something others neglect. Make it sound exciting. Let donors own it.
  2. Connection. Find a way for your donors to be directly connected to the impact of their giving. Can they get reports or even personal contact from beneficiaries? You’ll really stand out when your donors can see what it means to give to you.
  3. Leverage. Find ways to multiply your donor’s generosity. Matching funds and other ways that their dollar is more than a dollar. That gets them giving — and maybe talking about it.


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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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About the blogger

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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