Showing Results Without Killing Fundraising

I am incredibly frustrated. For the last two weeks, my e-mail provider has been “experiencing difficulties,” and mail delivery has been slow. Added to that, the volume of spam that its spam filters are allowing through is significantly increasing.

Now, I am not a technical genius, so I’m not all that interested in the reasons for these problems. I want solutions. And you know, that’s a lot like the people who donate to nonprofits. They have identified a need they care about, and they want it fixed. So they choose an organization that they believe will “fix” the problem, they invest some money and they expect to hear that the problem is getting solved.

Here’s where the disconnect can occur. We know that “need” is usually a bigger motivator than “solution” when it comes to fundraising. We’ve tested that over and over, and in almost all cases, “need” wins. The very same donors who say they want to know progress is being made in solving the problem often don’t give (or they give less) when we tell them about progress!

What’s a fundraiser to do?

Remember it is a relationship, not a transaction. Like all good communication with anyone we have a relationship with, we won’t always have the same message. We may ask our favorite waitress how her day off was as well as place our order, or chat with a classmate about a concert we attended as well as an upcoming assignment.

Always think of your donors as individuals with whom you are building relationships. Yes, you are usually writing to hundreds or thousands, but the copy is being read by a single person. So talk to that person about the good things she has helped you do and why another gift now is needed to continue the work. If it has been a while since she gave, let her know that you’ve missed her and that renewing support today will help accomplish more of what she made possible in the past. And if she has never given, let her know you are chipping away at the problem but that her help will bring about results even faster.

Once your copy is written (for online or offline), read it out loud. Does it sound like a conversation or like a soliloquy? Is it weaving the donor (“you” in copy) into the solution, or is it all about “us” and what “we” do?

Take every opportunity to share success. Outside of fundraising, you have many communications with your donors that offer you a chance to share success. For example, when mailing a receipt, include a small newsletter with two or three success stories. After all, you are paying for First Class postage, so get your ounce worth.

Electronic communications are (relatively) inexpensive, and a monthly success report can help you share the good news. Post short videos that show and tell the positive things your organization accomplished with a donor’s gift — and make sure your donors know about the videos. (“It’s on our website” is not acceptable; few donors will take the time to go on a website scavenger hunt to find hidden gems.) Provide links in e-mails, simple URLs to type in when you mention the videos in your receipts and prominent links on your website.

Always tie success back to the gifts you receive from donors. This is another place where “we” can be overused. “We did this” is fine, but continue with “because of your generosity.” Help donors see themselves in the solutions, envisioning themselves as partners who are working alongside you. No, they may not be digging the ditch or cooking the meal, but they are just as important as the people who do — so make sure they understand that.

I received an e-mail recently that included in the copy, “But there is hope — and that hope is YOU.” Yes, the entire e-mail was about need and how I could help with a gift. But that one line said, “It works because of you.”

Unfortunately, another e-mail I received did quite the opposite. It provided a link to the organization’s annual report but didn’t make me feel like I was part of the success (until the last line). Phrases like “I am proud,” “tells our story” and “we’re achieving our mission” kept the focus on the organization instead of on what the organization accomplished with my help.

Take it from this old dog: Sharing success is important, but make sure it is a shared success because of you and the donor. Otherwise you may only be talking to yourself as your donors move on to where they feel part of the solution.

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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