What my cat taught me about fundraising

My cat and I are great friends. We love hanging out together.

But our relationship is built on delusions:

My cat thinks I’m a cat. There’s no room in her tiny brain for the idea that she’s living with some species other than cats. So she interacts with me the way she would if we were a family of cats.

The other delusion: I think my cat is a human. Even though I fully understand she’s not sentient and has almost no language capability, I talk to her all the time. And I expect her to pay attention when I tell her to stop scratching the furniture. I expect her to listen to reason and to respect my wishes.

I interpret her cat behavior toward me as her being cuddly and nice. She thinks the things I do (especially the part where I put out food for her) as correct cat behavior.

Besides the occasional misunderstanding about walking on me while I sleep or trips to the vet, the whole thing works.

But delusions like that don’t work in fundraising.

In fundraising, you need to be completely clear about the difference between yourself and your donors.

If you think your donors are what you are — that is, experts in your cause who spend all their time thinking about it and working on it — you will never quite connect. Everything you say will be wrong, irrelevant, even disturbing. As if you kept presenting gifts of twitching, half-dead mice.

Treat your donors as what they really are: Concerned non-experts who are paying less attention to you than you are. Enter their world. Watch what they do. Do your best to think the way they think. Give them things they want, not things you want to give.

The responsibility is yours in this relationship.

But staying out of the delusion is how you’ll build the right relationship with your donors.


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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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