For stronger fundraising, try Maslow’s Funnel

If you ever took a psychology class, you may remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It looks like this:

The “low” physical needs are at the bottom. The “high” emotional and spiritual needs above.

I’m not going to argue with Dr. Maslow. But I do have a problem with the way his pyramid is often interpreted in fundraising.

I can’t count how many times Psych 101-educated fundraisers have told me that the “low” levels on the pyramid are less important, less worthy, even less moral than the “high” ones at the top. Thus fundraising offers that are about food, shelter, or other basic body needs are less appropriate subjects than the nobler needs like self-actualization.

They set up a false pecking order, as if different needs have different moral value. As if a food offer is like a crummy pop-music hit by the flavor-of-the-week celebrity, while a self-actualization offer is a Brahms symphony.

That leads to ineffective fundraising.

Because the higher you go on Maslow’s pyramid, the harder it is to get donors to give.

Nearly all donors are pleased to help feed a hungry person. Few (though not zero) are ready to write a check to help boost the confidence of a stranger.

There’s a way to make Dr. Maslow a friend of your fundraising, rather than a problem. All you have to do is turn his pyramid upside down. Make it a funnel. Like this:

That puts the “low” basic body needs at the top, where they can “catch” the most donors. And it allows donors to filter down to the “high” needs if they want to.

It’s no coincidence that the strongest-performing fundraising offers are the most basic. Because our emotions, even though they feel complex, poetic, even spiritual, are tightly connected with survival things like food, shelter, and relationship issues. Survival.

Fundraising, like all marketing, is the operation of a funnel. You start with whatever will bring in the largest number of people. Then you let those people find their way to what they are interested in.

Excerpted from The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving by Jeff Brooks

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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.