3 ways to make even “difficult” fundraising work [MacGyver Fundraising]

MacGyver Fundraising: A series about getting it done in the real world

MacGyver was an US action TV show in the 80s (with a more recent reboot) featuring a brilliant professional problem-solver who could get himself out of any jam with whatever random materials were at hand. He always solved the most difficult situations. Fundraisers are a lot like MacGyver.

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You’ve seen the fundraising that asks donors to provide meals for hungry people at incredibly low costs.

It’s a classic fundraising offer, and it works.

Not everyone can go to their donors with a “$2 meal” offer. Or anything like it.

You might feel green-eyed jealousy when you see fundraising like that. But you simply can’t find your own equivalent. There are many reasons you might be in this position:

  • Your organization’s work doesn’t break down into donor-sized pieces — like the least expensive item it a beaker used in research, which costs $600.
  • You raise funds for something most people don’t really grasp, like hospice care. (People who’ve been through a hospice experience understand the value. It’s not easy to grasp if you haven’t been there.)
  • Your work is one or more steps removed from frontline work, like you advocate for better laws rather than directly serve.

There are a lot of other reasons you may be struggling for those clear, simple, elegant, donor-sized offers.

If that’s you, here are three ways to tackle your fundraising and find a way to be compelling for donors of all types:

  1. Know your donors. Don’t worry about reaching “everyone.” Not every cause is for every donor. In fact, there’s no cause on the planet that is for every donor. And that can be your super-power. Your donors are a select group of people who care about what you do. The more narrow and specific your cause, the more passionate your donors and prospective donors are. You just need to find those people — possibly tricky — and express the passion they share with you — possibly even more tricky. But much easier than trying to reach the whole planet.
  2. Focus on outcomes, not processes. A lot of fundraisers struggle because they’re trying to sell the way the do their thing, not the thing itself. Your processes are incredibly important. But sorry to say it, but your processes are boring to everyone except your staff. Donors want to make things happen. Focus on that, and you’ll start to see fundraising offers.
  3. Go big, not small. This is a common approach for medical charities. Rather then dissect the work down to $400 beakers and $3,000 orthopedic beds, they talk about ending the disease forever. That may be the thing your donors most passionately want. If you can make it believable, that just may be your amazing offer.

Before you do any of the above things, I have a challenge for you: Go through a process of discovering your own “$2 meal” offer. It might be just waiting for you to uncover it.

If it exists, your curse of knowledge makes it hard to find. But if you can find it, you will have a resource that will power your fundraising for a long, long time!

MacGyver Fundraising


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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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