Does your fundraising mean anything at all to your donors?

I keep seeing this online ad. It pops up between Words With Friends games. It just says:

Pennzoil: Innovating since 1913

The graphic is mainly the Pennzoil logo.

I don’t know anything about motor-oil buyers. Maybe they are strongly motivated to buy from 100+ year old companies that claim to be innovative.

But I doubt it. I’m guessing they are motivated to buy oil they believe will make their cars run better. Or maybe they just buy the cheapest oil.

I think Pennzoil is putting “Pennzoil: innovating since 1913” in front of me because that’s something people at Pennzoil are proud of.

They may assume that because it makes them feel good to say it, it will make potential buyers feel similarly good, thus more likely to buy their product.

That’s a fallacy:

  • This slogan makes us feel good.
  • Our customers are exactly like us.
  • Therefore they will feel good and buy.

Premise #1 is most likely correct. But premise #2 is probably incorrect. And the conclusion is completely unsupportable.

I bring this up because so much fundraising — maybe most of it — is built on this same fallacy: Say something that makes your organizational insiders feel good, and that will move outsiders to donate.

That’s why we see so much fundraising that doesn’t really address donors at all. Like “Serving the Community since 1956.”

That isn’t a motivator. Because it’s not connected with donors’ lives and aspirations.

There’s some good insight on this in a recent Monday Morning Memo (a newsletter for ad writers): Creativity in Advertising is Overrated.

Bad strategy is usually the result of someone’s ego…. they want to be perceived in a certain way. They usually call this fantasy their “brand essence” …. They want to continue doing what they have done in the past, but make it work this time. [But] it’s not going to work any better than it did in the past.

Do you want your fundraising to work?

Then don’t go to donors with messages about things you are proud of and make you, your colleagues, and board members feel good.

Go to the donors with messages that make them feel uncomfortable. Show them a problem. Then help them see a path out of that discomfort. Show them they can solve that problem.

That’s what brings in the donations.


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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.