If you look back 20, 30 — OK, even two — years, you may see some fundraising practices that seem silly now that we have the perspective of time and experience on our side. That’s the fun of working in a field that isn’t just science; there’s plenty of “art” mixed in too. The challenge is knowing what’s what so we aren’t just running after every neat new thing or refusing to try anything new. A mistake either way can hurt our income, and therefore our mission fulfillment.
So how do you identify what old methods are worth keeping alive and what new methods can have a positive bottom-line impact? Or in other words, how do you avoid staying with what’s comfortable even when it’s on life support or chasing what’s new just because it looks fun?
A good place to start is by asking yourself these questions.
Who is my target audience?
Yeah, I know I bring this up a lot, but I keep hearing and seeing evidence that says someone out there isn’t listening. I hate to tell you, but the target isn’t you — so you have to figure out who it is. That audience helps determine what you say, when you say it and what tool you say it in.
Personally, one of the hardest things is to stop thinking it’s all about me. But the reality is, it’s about the donor or potential donor. Until we believe that, we run the risk of leaving donors behind.
The question for every fundraiser and colleague who reviews copy and design isn’t, “Do I like it?” As long as it is honest and ethical, the real question is, “Will our donors connect with the message and be compelled to respond?” When you talk your donors’ love language, you have a far better chance of getting them to take the desired action.
What’s the ONE purpose of this communication?
Always start by determining what is the real purpose of the communication — the one thing you want to accomplish through it — before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
That one purpose doesn’t have any “ands” in it. If you want to raise money, that’s the sole focus of your message. If you want to tell donors about an upcoming event, that’s the message.
Newsletters (print and online) may have multiple messages, and you can give prominence to some by where you place the article. But if you want to raise money, talk about what the donor’s gift will do. Help donors “see” the project through your words. Make it exciting, life-saving, urgent or whatever — but don’t make it buried in with other purposes.
What is working for other people?
Although I am a great fan of emails and letters other fundraisers send, I usually have no idea if what I am looking at is the biggest fundraising breakthrough since the mass mailing or if it’s a colossal dud that made a lot of employees feel good but did nothing to increase income and donor loyalty.
So you need to dig deeper and see what’s being mailed or sent electronically again and again (we have to assume that most nonprofits don’t resend failures). Some articles take a hard look at particular campaigns, and those are worth studying. Workshops and seminars often do the same.
You should also check out Who’s Mailing What! if you haven’t done so already. “Borrowing” from a failed fundraising campaign is just too expensive of a mistake to make, so looking at what’s working for others — in your vertical or not — can be a worthwhile shortcut.
What’s the proof my target audience needs?
Your donor or prospect may not need the same level of evidence the government or a foundation board needs. People, of course, want to know that their investment is going to make a difference. Your job is to demonstrate that without leaving them staggering under the weight of the “proof” you provide.
In 2012, Grey Matter Research found that nearly six in 10 non-donors believed that any gift they made to a nonprofit would be consumed in such an extent for overhead that it would not have a real impact on mission fulfillment. How can you show them (not just tell them) how a gift to your nonprofit will change things for the better?
We are fortunate fundraisers today because we have many great tools to help us get out our message. We aren’t just at the mercy of the post office or a telephone that doesn’t travel with our donors. But take it from this old dog; that doesn’t relieve us of the challenge to make every fundraising communication motivate our target audience to be part of the success story we are writing every single day as we make our missions happen.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.