The 2 (only 2!) things your donors need to know about you

Adapted from How to Turn Your Words into Money: The Master Fundraiser’s Guide to Persuasive Writing.

Remember the song about the lady who swallowed a fly — then a spider, then some other creatures until she died from ingesting a horse? (If you don’t believe me about this, see the video below.)

Suppose you worked for a group dedicated to preventing accidents like hers. It might be called the Hippophagy Foundation.

What would your fundraising message be?

Some organizations would describe the problem as it is in the song:

Will you do your part to help prevent the often fatal tragedy of fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, goat, cow, and horse ingestion?

Getting donors to respond to this message would be an uphill struggle. The complexity of the problem is mind-boggling. The solution is not exactly obvious.

A better approach would be to talk about the most dramatic part of the problem … in this case, the fatal horse:

In the next few days, someone—perhaps someone you know—will have a serious accident and end up swallowing a living horse. You can imagine the trauma and pain as the horse kicks and thrashes on its way down.

She’ll die, of course. … Unless you help rush the emergency care she needs.

That’s fundraising: asking the donor to help do something she understands.

Some people, experts in hippophagy, might believe the horse-only description is incomplete.

“To give donors the full picture,” they’d say, “we should describe all the steps of the tragedy, not just the horse.”

But that’s not fundraising. That’s med school.

Your donors don’t need training to be good donors. They need to know only two things:

  1. There’s a problem.
  2. They can be part of the solution.

If your message obscures that simple equation with a lot of details, you lose donors. You lose their attention. That’s why simplicity gets the job done.

How to Turn Your Words into Money is back in print and available for order from the publisher and other places you can order books.

Here’s Burl Ives singing the old (scary) version of “I Know an Old Lady.” Enjoy. Maybe don’t share with young children. This song may be one of the reasons people of my generation are so messed up.


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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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