You might not like what donors want

I once read some research about the reasons people attend the opera. It also gave the reasons opera company staff believed people attend the opera. It went something like this:

Opera professionals believed people attend because of the reputation of the opera company, the start quality of the singers, their love for the composer. That is, the things they (company staff) have some influence on.

Then there were real reasons people attend. Two of them:

  1. Because it’s date night.
  2. Because they want to seem classy.

That has got to have opera professionals tearing their hair out! Those reasons are cheesy, ignorant, low-brow, and, well, just wrong.

We’re all entitled to our own opinions about other people’s motivations. But if we actually want to be persuasive, we’d better speak to those motivations, like them or not.

A lot of arts marketing and fundraising is built around the beliefs and needs of professionals and insiders, not the public and the donors.

Which means they are putting all their time, energy, and budget saying things that have nothing to do with getting people to show up or donate. Or things that actively drive people away.

You have to wonder: How many people have never been to the opera and will never become donors because the local opera company wants to sell them things they don’t care about?

It’s not just arts organizations that do this. The experts and insiders know what’s important. The simple-minded beliefs of non-experts are beneath them. So they produce marketing and fundraising that aims at their own understanding, perhaps in hopes that this will spur benighted would-be donors to “evolve.”

This approach all but says, “If you’re going to be ignorant, we don’t want your money.”

Organizations with that mindset have chosen to limit their fundraising effectiveness and their revenue growth. They’d rather feel good about their messaging than mobilize people who might not be experts, but somehow manage to care anyway. Their elitism and arrogance are a ball and chain.

Why not reach people where they are — not where they “should” be?

The beautiful thing is, many people who go to the opera for low-brow reasons grow in their understanding and sophistication as they experience opera. They may never reach the exalted level of the professionals, but they’ll make a lot more progress than they would if they never entered an opera house in the first place.

If you want to bring people along, enlarge your scope of support, and really change the world, you have to start where your people are. Not where you are, and not where you wish they were.


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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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