How professional is your fundraising: 5 ways to get it right

Have you heard this one? “If we talk like that, people will think we’re unprofessional!”

It’s what someone at a nonprofit will sometimes say when they object to strong, urgent, emotional language in fundraising. It’s not “professional.”

Is professional an important quality in fundraising? Or, more to the point, is seeming professional an important quality. (Because I know you are professional!)

I’ve written a lot of fundraising for hospitals and medical centers. In that capacity, I’ve interviewed many patients who are also donors. Nearly all of those patient/donors, when talking about why they feel grateful and connected to the hospital that treated them, talk about how they personally connected with their doctors and other medical staff.

They tell me the staff are human. Kind. Patient. They listened. They took time. They got to know me as a person.

Some of the people I talk to also mention the skill, knowledge, and professionalism they encountered. But that’s almost an after-thought. A given.

They expect, even require, professionalism from their doctors. But what really makes the difference for them is human warmth and personal connection.

And I think this tells us something about how our fundraising should feel.

Being professional is critical. But feeling personal is even more important.

And that means if you’re trading away the personal-touch for a more professional image, you are making a big mistake.

There’s a name for someone who’s 100% “professional”: It’s bureaucrat.

There are doctors like that. Highly skilled, totally buttoned down. Saving lives all the time. But they don’t awaken that sense of love and connection with their patients.

Don’t be like that! Your donors won’t connect. You’ll raise less money.

Instead, be warm, human, personal. With your professionalism under the surface.

Organizations that are unprofessional can’t fake it for long. But if you have your act together, you can choose to display your human side.

What does this mean, practically?

  • Colloquial language.
  • Old-fashioned, even slightly messy, design.
  • Unashamed expressions of emotion.
  • Choosing simplicity over complexity in communications.
  • Favoring connection over education in fundraising.

Professional fundraisers already know all this. Which is the irony of this whole thing: Choosing a “professional” look and feel over a more personal one is a clear sign of a lack of professionalism!

And down-home, heart-on-the-sleeve emotional fundraising is the work of steely-eyed pros who are bringing home the bacon.

I know you may have bosses, boards, or brand standards that absolutely mandate that you get this wrong. This is something you should patiently work on changing. Because it’s how you raise funds. And if that’s your job, getting the fundamental tone right is something you can’t ignore.


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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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