Your excellence matters, but it might be crushing your fundraising

A few weeks ago, the BBC announced that it was going to shut down the BBC Singers, a top-level professional choir that’s been around almost 100 years.

The reaction was quick and furious. Musicians, the public, and politicians cried out against the move. And it worked. The BBC reversed the decision.

Scary story, happy ending. So far.

But there’s something in this situation for all fundraisers, in the arts or not. It’s how we need to talk if we really want people to donate. That’s what this great post at Culture for Hire says: What the BBC Singers need to know about persuasive messaging.

The post takes a look at an open letter to the BBC on why they should reverse their decision to cut the BBC singers. Here are the ten reasons they gave:

  1. We enjoy worldwide renown.
  2. We are the UK’s only full-time professional choir.
  3. We have a nearly 100-year history.
  4. This will be devastating to the livelihood of the current singers (and future singers).
  5. Our composers will no longer have a professional choir for which to compose.
  6. We are exemplars of dedication, versatility, and artistic excellence.
  7. The BBC’s arts legacy is envied around the world.
  8. Professional musicians shouldn’t have to work as freelancers.
  9. A top-class symphony orchestra can only produce its best work in a stable environment.
  10. We deliver excellence to our audiences.

Basically, You should not not cut us, because we are really awesome.

Sound familiar?

That’s because it’s the basic platform of a lot of fundraising in all sectors.

“Give because we’re great.”

It’s not effective.

What defenders of the Singers might have said:

  • Through our music, we have had a wide-ranging impact on society.
  • We are one of the best sources of new compositions that address and respond to issues facing society today.
  • We provide transformational musical experiences to our community.
  • We are sharing stories and shaping culture with our music.
  • We want to continue doing this transformational work on a full-time basis because our community needs us.
  • Community-centric work is all-consuming and integral to our mission.
  • Our wide-ranging repertoire reflects the diversity of our community and helps all voices be heard.
  • Studies show that art helps create a more collaborative society, physical and mental wellbeing, deeper connections, and joy.

“We are awesome” is not, by itself, a reason to fund an arts organization — or donate to a nonprofit. My guess is that the reason the BBC reversed their decision was because a lot of people had reasons for keeping the Choir going — reasons from the second list. Not the first.

People love a musical group because of what it does for them.

This is just as true outside the arts. People donate too an organization for reasons of their own, such as…

  • The organization helps make the world better in a way they want it to be better.
  • The organization puts their values into action in ways they can’t do by themselves.
  • The act of giving helps them be the people they want to be.
  • Giving feels good.

Droning on about your excellence misses the point. Your donors’ point.

It used to work. In the arts and across fundraising.

But things are changing. Audiences and donors take a much closer look at their choices. They want to solve problems and make progress, and they know better than to believe everything they hear.

I’m not saying excellence doesn’t matter. It’s necessary. Hard-won excellence that you prove every day. But it’s just the price of admission into people’s lives. It’s not why people care.

Think about your purpose, your why, what you have to offer.

That’s what it takes to raise money.


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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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