Why they donate to Notre Dame and not your cause

Since the terrible fire in Paris and the outpouring of philanthropy to restore Notre Dame, you’ve probably seen the complaints:

Why are people donating so much to Notre Dame? [Our cause] is much [bigger/more important/ more deserving/more local/etc.]!

The short answer: Charitable giving is not a calculated, rational act. It flows from the heart. And the fire-ravaged cathedral has some attributes that are hard to beat:

  • We experienced it together. Suppose a news story shows up in your Facebook feed: a house of worship you’ve never heard of in a distant country has burned down. Your reaction? Not much, I’ll guess. But we watched Notre Dame burn in real time. Even if you aren’t French, or Catholic, or an admirer of medieval architecture, you felt your heart sink when that spire fell. When we experience a tragedy up close like that, wanting to help is truly compelling.
  • It’s believable that money can solve the problem. It’s going to take a lot of money, but we can imagine the building restored. A donation actually accomplishes something specific!
  • Loss aversion. This is the big one. We hate to lose something that can’t be replaced. If someone were raising funds to build a new cathedral — something that was going to be just as awe-inspiring, bigger, serving more people — worldwide reaction would be a big meh…

As a fundraising proposition, the burned Notre Dame has some advantages that are hard to beat. But ask yourself, what can you do with your cause to capture some of that?

  • Help donors vividly feel the need.
  • Help donors believe that their money will have a real impact.
  • Help donors prevent some kind of loss.

You can do those things, and you’ll raise more money. Even if some of your donors are also giving to restore Notre Dame!


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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.