The syndrome that strikes down too many fundraisers

Does your newsletter and/or website contain any of the following?

  • News about the accomplishments of your staff.
  • Photos of well-heeled donors presenting giant checks to your organization.
  • Detailed history of your organization.
  • Photos of people standing around (possibly holding wine glasses) at your fundraising event.
  • Articles explaining how your programs and processes work.
  • Manifestos about how your approach is superior to others’.

If you answered yes to any of these, your organization may suffer from Nonprofit Navel-Gazing Syndrome, or NPNGS (pronounced “nippings”).

This condition can cause nonprofits to believe that if donors just understood them and grasped how awesome they really are … they’d give.

Unfortunately, that’s now how charitable giving works. Donors don’t give to keep you in operation. They give to make things happen. Fundraising that’s all about you is always less effective.

Donors don’t think like you. They’re less schooled in the fine points of what it takes to accomplish your mission. Their view of what you do is less nuanced than your view. They are drawn to simplistic, even incomplete descriptions of your work — and the strongest philosophical argument can leave them cold.

Organizations with advanced NPNGS sometimes blame the fact that their self-focused fundraising doesn’t work on their donors. They see them as “deficient,” and sometimes go as far as trying to somehow find “better” donors who will appreciate them.

The sad truth is, they inevitably learn that there are few donors willing to spend the time getting up to speed on them.

The cure for NPNGS is easy. It’s to embrace this truth: Donors are interested in you because of what you help them do. You are their agent in their personal mission to make the world better. That should be the topic of all your fundraising. Not the inner workings of the organization. Not the accomplishments of notable others. Not the need for raised consciousness or philosophical buy-in.

Your top-notch staff, your wonderful events, your well-honed methodology, your superior mindset — all these things are part of your uniqueness and your ability to accomplish your mission. But donors aren’t much interested in that. They just want to give to achieve clear results they can understand. Swallow your pride and meet donors where they are.


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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.