How to escape the obnoxious fundraising trap

You’re walking along a city sidewalk. Suddenly a panhandler is walking next to you, cajoling you for a handout. C’mon! Just a dollar! Just fifty cents! I need some food!

You quickly conclude that the easiest way to get rid of him is not to confront him and send him away, but to dig some coins out of your pocket and give him a few.

His tactic works, but it doesn’t feel good. It’s an unpleasant donor experience that retention.

Are you afraid your fundraising is like that?

Look out. The Agitator calls that Nonprofit Narcissism:

Fundraisers who see themselves as burdening their donors have a totally dysfunctional mindset, and they probably have poorly performing fundraising programs as a result.

They are probably thinking and talking about their needs — i.e. the needs of their organizations — instead of the needs (and aspirations) of their donors.

“Our fundraising is obnoxious” is typically a self-fulfilling prophecy. It comes from fundraisers who don’t understand what fundraising is really about: fulfilling the aspirations of donors. They think instead it’s about wheedling a few more bucks from donors.

So they fundraising like that — like the aggressive panhandler. Which is indeed obnoxious. It sometimes “works,” but not for the long-term. Gift frequency and average gift tend to be low. Retention is poor.

To make matters worse, fundraisers in this situation often ramp up the obnoxiousness of their fundraising, desperately trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of their beleaguered donors.

It’s a long, slow death-spiral.

The way out is to change your thinking about fundraising: Make it about the donors. Give them specific calls to action that allow them to see the ways they can change the world. Thank them and report back on how they make a difference. Stop bragging about your awesome programs. Stop focusing on your shiny new brand.

That’s how you escape the death spiral.

Fundraising about donors will bring in more revenue. It also feel much, much better.


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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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