The most common fundraising error, and how to avoid it

This is probably the most common fundraising mistake of all, the main reason many nonprofits struggle to get the support they need: telling donors the wrong story — a story that’s extremely unlikely to connect with or motivate them to give.

It’s a reasonable error that comes from communicating what seems to make sense to us:

  • Our cause is ultra-important.
  • Our approach to it is effective and awesome.
  • If people just knew those things, they’d be throwing donations at us!

All fine, except that approach is out of step with reality.

Sasha Dichter’s Blog captures the problem precisely at Getting Fundraising Right:

As good and as important as our work is, we are not the protagonists in this story. We are the enablers of the change.

In fundraising, the donor is the protagonist. You raise the most money when you show donors how they can change the world in the way they want it changed. You are their vehicle, not the other way around.

That means:

  • Don’t brag.
  • Don’t dwell on your processes, no matter how excellent they are.
  • Don’t try to educate them — motivate them.

Sometimes fundraising that does all these things works nevertheless. I think that’s because the donors re-write the story in their heads (or hearts) to become the correct story about how they make a difference.

But don’t count on donors doing that for you. Instead:

  • Focus on action — the action they will make possible through their giving.
  • Appeal to their values.
  • Talk more about them than about yourself.

That may not be as easy as it sounds. But it’s how you raise funds.

(This post first appeared on April 13, 2015.)


Comments

4 responses to “The most common fundraising error, and how to avoid it”

  1. ha! I thought from the post title that the most common error was going to be ‘typos’ and you put the typo in your title to make a point!

  2. ha! I thought from the post title that the most common error was going to be ‘typos’ and you put the typo in your title to make a point!

  3. Ha! No, it was a “real” typo (now fixed). Typos are embarrassing, but they seldom do any actual damage to fundraising response.

  4. Ha! No, it was a “real” typo (now fixed). Typos are embarrassing, but they seldom do any actual damage to fundraising response.

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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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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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