Not to Be Rude … but What’s in It for Me?

Every day, fundraisers have a challenge. We somehow have to convince our potential donor to choose us to receive his or her donation.

No single nonprofit — large or small — is the lone voice crying out for those few discretionary dollars. Radio spots for the local food pantry, late-night TV programs about children in Africa, mailings from a nearby hospital, and posters at work about the Combined Federal Campaign or United Way — all are begging for attention and dollars.

A donor chooses an opportunity to support for a number of reasons, most of which we can’t control: It’s a family tradition, I know someone who benefited from this organization, I’m hoping a donation will be an investment in good karma, I like the logo …

However, we aren’t totally at the mercy of logical — or occasionally illogical — reasoning. Our “offer” can influence whether or not a person chooses to give.

Although the “AFP Fundraising Dictionary Online” doesn’t include an entry for “offer” (preferring “case”), it’s one of the three things that impacts results (the others being creative [copy and design] and audience) and something every fundraiser must wrestle with on an ongoing basis.

What, how, why?
Offers — reasons to give — first must tell the donor what the problem is, how it can be solved and why your organization is the best choice for solving it. Too often, we assume that the potential donor knows what we’re talking about. Take for example the current famine in the Horn of Africa. It’s massive. People are dying. But I have heard about it exactly one time in the media. I’ve received e-mails from several international development agencies about it, asking me to support their relief efforts, but between the economy, the country’s debt rating, fears about our retirement portfolios and early attention on the many presidential hopefuls, it’s easy to overlook a famine thousands of miles away.

So make it very clear that there is a problem (even if we’re the only ones talking about it). Next, show that there also is a solution and you’re the best choice for implementing that. Our offer isn’t about comparing options. It’s about showing our potential donor the one thing that is going to fix this problem, and the best nonprofit to get the job done.

When? How much?
If a potential donor has some disposable dollars, she may not be eager to part with them today. So as fundraisers, our next job in developing our offer is to explain the sense of urgency. If you don’t get the funding to implement your solution to this problem right away, what will happen? When a donor considers several options, each one sounding quite convincing, he or she wants to make the right choice. That means investing in something that can’t be put off for a year or a month, or even a week.

What does this perfect solution cost? This is often where offers break down. We’re hesitant to commit to too much detail. Having flexibility with donated dollars is always great, but, especially if you are trying to acquire a new donor or upgrade a lower-level giver, you need to provide specifics.

Fill in the blanks: “We can do ____ for $___.” If you don’t know what goes in the blanks, you need to talk to colleagues who do and get more information.

I hate to ask, but what’s in it for me?
While most donors won’t admit it in a focus group or on a survey, personal benefit often impacts a decision to give to a nonprofit. Fundraisers often think “premium” at this point, but many donors are motivated by something much harder to describe than a T-shirt or membership card. It’s that feeling they get when they give to your cause. It may be a sense of religious fulfillment or pride that they are able to support your cause at a level they consider generous. It may be the satisfaction of knowing they are carrying on a family tradition, giving back to a community or alma mater, or doing something about a problem they believe is serious.

In personal solicitation, you often know the donor’s motivation. In mass solicitation, you won’t know what drives your potential donor’s decision to give or not give. Take time to think through what a typical person may feel after supporting your offer, and answer that silent question, “What’s in it for me?”

Before putting pen to paper (or more likely, fingers to keyboard) to start writing a direct-mail letter, e-mail appeal, newsletter, radio or DRTV script, website copy, or assigning the project to an agency or freelance writer, write out the answers to the questions I’ve raised about what you have to offer. With this information, the actual writing is easier and the end result is more likely to communicate to your potential donor.

There are thousands of good offers in fundraising. What makes yours the best?


Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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