There’s one thing you can know for sure about fundraising … you are wrong!

If you “know” something about fundraising, and the basis of your knowledge is your opinion, then you are wrong.

That’s right: Your personal opinions about fundraising always lead you astray. Same with your boss, your consultant, your spouse, and pretty much everyone else who forms an opinion about how fundraising ought to be.

Example: You’re a busy person. Long, wordy messages with a lot of repetition in them really annoy you. You are quite certain you would not respond to a fundraising message like that, so you confidently believe that long fundraising messages are a really bad idea. Because everyone thinks pretty much as you do.

Wrong.

The reality of what works in fundraising is otherwise. Longer messages do better than short ones by an overwhelming margin.

What seems right to you tells you nothing useful about what fundraising should be like.

Two reasons for this odd and frustrating phenomenon:

  1. You are not your donor. You are probably demographically and psychographically different, but more important, you are experientially different. Which leads to …
  2. Using your analytical, rational mind and paying conscious attention to a fundraising message (or anything, really) is nothing at all like the way people encounter and interact with your message. Nobody’s conscious opinions tell us anything about how the message will do in the real world. And that includes actual donors.

When you ask donors their opinions about your fundraising, they almost always have opinions that are the exact opposite of what their behavior shows. Show a focus group your best-performing piece of direct mail, and everyone in the room will hate it.

Even if every single person in the room is there because they responded to that exact piece of direct mail!

So even if you are a 100% match with your donors, you still can’t use your opinion to guide you. You’ll still get it wrong.

You might as well ask your cat if a bag of birdseed is any good! She might have an opinion (my cat would), but that opinion is meaningless.

It’s a fact of life in fundraising. People who succeed in fundraising know it.

Get used to it. Form your beliefs from testing and learning, not your instincts.


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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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