How scarcity focuses your donors on your fundraising

A few years ago, there was a cheese shortage.

I’m still scarred by it.

Specifically, it was a shortage of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar cheese. If you don’t live on the US West Coast, you may not be aware of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar. If that’s the case, I pity you.

But during the Great Cheese Shortage, it was bad for all of us. They didn’t make enough Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, and ran out. It takes a long time to make it. And that caught a lot of people’s attention. Honestly, I doubt this brand of cheese is all that different from other kinds of sharp cheddar. But that didn’t matter when we suddenly couldn’t have any. Everywhere you went, people mentioned it. It isn’t quite normal to talk about cheese. Except when there’s a cheese shortage.

Because scarcity is compelling. It focuses the mind.

Scarcity can power your fundraising. But it needs two qualities:

  1. It should be real. Don’t make up bogus scarcity. It’s probably not believable. Even if you make it believable, it’s not ethical.
  2. It should seem real. Being real only gets you half-way there. The reality has to make sense to your donors. It has to be easy to understand and clear, not surrounded by a blanket of legalese.

Matching fund offers have a kind of built-in scarcity. There’s only a certain amount that will be matched. Often, there’s also a limited time to take advantage of the fund.

Time can create scarcity. If there’s some reason you have to fund something before it’s too late (like something bad will happen if we don’t raise the funds right away), emphasize that fact. It’s a form of scarcity.

Look at the facts about your programs. Look for scarcity. If you have it, trumpet it. It works.


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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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