What’s the Cure for Sending the Wrong Message in Fundraising?

There’s an old joke about a minister who preaches the same sermon three weeks in a row. When confronted about it, he replies, “When you start doing what this sermon teaches, I’ll move on to another topic.”

That’s how I feel about my No. 1 fundraising “sermon.” I know I have said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but it’s true, and we all need to start acting like we believe it. So repeat after me: “I am not the target audience.”

That’s right—it’s not about me, you or even your nonprofit organization. It’s about what our reader, listener, browser or surfer wants to know and be assured about. But instead we keep giving our donors a steady diet of “us.” “We did this,” “we are the experts in …” and “we have a better idea.”

So why do you need me, the person who could give you a donation?

If we truly are focusing on the potential donor as our target audience, we’ll have to do a better job banishing these messages that we’re sending in our fundraising communications—even if that’s not what we mean to say.

“We’re solving the problem. All you need to do is add money.”
This is the message that comes across when we open our letters and e-appeals by talking about us (the organization) without bothering to quickly show the reader where he or she fits in. A recent letter in my mailbox is typical of this “us syndrome” because it doesn’t even reference the reader until the 12th line, and then only to say that the organization will “let you support us.” A lot of readers will never make it to the 12th line; they already have read that you have a plan, so why are they needed?

“You know all about us, so we won’t bore you with too much information.”
You—the fundraiser—don’t need a lot of details, and you don’t need things spelled out using simple and vivid language. You have the insider’s view so you just need a few words and your mind fills in the rest. But when it comes to your supporters or prospects, you have to assume they haven’t even thought about you since they read or viewed the last communication from your organization that they actually did read or view. Not once. So never assume you don’t have to build a case for support. You need to sell your donor again and again on why a gift to you is still the best way to meet his or her philanthropic goals and have an impact on an issue that he or she cares about. With nearly 1.5 million nonprofits in America, never assume that you are remembered. You generally won’t be disappointed.

“What I like is what you will like.”
Sadly, you—the fundraiser—are not the best judge of what your donors will do. Neither is your executive director, your board chair, your information technology staff, a volunteer or anyone else for that matter. The only way to really know what your donors will like is to track what they respond to. One or two pages? Photos or no photos in your e-appeal? Mailed newsletter or just an online newsletter? What do your donors respond to when they are given a choice? There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to fundraising communication, so if you aren’t measuring what your donors respond to, you potentially are missing out on donations.

“You know we’re grateful for your support.”
Sure, deep down, your donor probably figures that you got his or her gift and appreciate it, but being truly thanked can have an amazing impact: It can make the donor want to do that action over again just to experience the joy of being thanked once again. We struggle to reduce our overhead by cutting “unnecessary” costs, like mailing out receipts (except maybe the annual giving summary for tax purposes). But never forget that there are two ways to reduce overhead: spend less and raise more. Building a cadre of donors who actually feel thanked has the potential to lead to them giving again and again. Determine that your nonprofit will be known as the one that made its donors feel valued, not just the one that kept its overhead low.

So what’s the cure for sending the wrong message in fundraising? This old dog thinks the American actor, Alan Alda, summed it up well when he said, “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

Let’s get scrubbing!

Originally published on 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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