‘Maybe I Just Don’t Like What You’re Saying’

In 21st century fundraising, the landscape is filled with potential for greatness. Not that many decades ago, fundraisers relied on direct mail and face-to-face fundraising. Now we have multiple ways to talk to people, meeting them in their mailboxes, inboxes and mobile devices; on their cause-related shampoo bottles, the radio and billboards; through an app; and the list goes on and on. If opportunities were all it took, we would be expanding our donor bases faster than ever. But with all the “noise” out there, overall giving in the U.S., as a percentage of gross domestic product, remains at 2 percent.

We all know that some donors will never be our donors. Our missions will never resonate with all donors, and if we watered down those missions to be non-offensive to everyone, they most likely not would be compelling to anyone. We’re OK with avoiding the temptation to try to reach all instead of building lasting relationships with some.

But there are some ways a nonprofit organization can alienate a segment of the audience that potentially could embrace its cause as a donor. And they all have to do with ignoring who the target audience is—or refusing to define a target audience less they prove somehow limiting. Following are some things a potential donor may consider before self-selecting to become your donor—or not.

“Are you focusing on my desire to achieve a goal through philanthropy, or on your need to achieve your goals?”
There is certainly a percentage of the marketplace that you don’t have to make charitable; some of us have “donating to charity” as part of our DNA. But we still make choices, and one of those choices is to whom we will give, and how much. I hesitate to say it again—it’s not new, and I read this constantly and have said it often. But it’s true—you have to show your donor what he or she is making possible. If we just talk about ourselves, why would a donor want to listen after a while?

“You just don’t consistently look like the kind of organization I want to support.”
Without even going inside, I can quickly tell if a store is catering to me or to another demographic altogether. This doesn’t make that store bad; it’s just not for me. As fundraisers, we have to accept that not everyone is going to like our “look.” We shouldn’t give up without trying, but we also shouldn’t keep changing our look in hopes of somehow appealing to everyone. Figure out who you are and to whom that will appeal—and then stay true to that. If you’re a bit stodgy, that’s OK—some donors want established, solid organizations that slowly and steadily accomplish their goals. If you’re more casual and perhaps even a bit chaotic, that is going to appeal to other donors. Choose your target audience and build your fundraising for that donor group. Yes, some “window shoppers” will never come inside, but you will build loyalty among your target market if you strategically stick to your “product line.”

“You expect too much from me.”
We may be asking too much of some of our donors. “Subscribe to our e-news!” “Share this on Facebook!” “Follow us on Twitter!” “Forward to a friend!” “Rate us!” It’s great to give donors options, but we need to not assume they all are grasping each one with great enthusiasm. Each donor has his or her own comfort zone on your communication spectrum, and that doesn’t necessarily point to the donor’s level of real commitment. Look at actions beyond social sharing and online activity; otherwise, you may ignore a highly committed donor who simply isn’t interested in engaging on every online channel.

“You haven’t bothered to get to know me.”
Despite all the information we have about a donor, sometimes we aren’t listening. What does a donor’s typical gift amount tell you? What does what he or she usually responds to say to you? Donors are used to getting recommendations from an online store that aligns with their interests. While you may not be able to rival the big e-commerce sites for data mining, trying to reflect back to your donors their expressed preferences isn’t just good marketing; it’s good relationship-building. And beware of “phony friendliness” that uses variable text to try to look engaged; it can backfire when misused.

True confession from this old dog—back in the “old days,” it was easier because we had fewer tools to master, and donors didn’t expect as much. But today, if we let the tools we have overshadow the heart of our fundraising—the donor and his or her needs—we lose an important aspect of our work. And when we try to be all things to all people, we risk leaving them all behind. Maybe it’s time to accept that some people just don’t like what we’re saying, and they never will. That’s OK—focus on being the best “friend” to those who do like your message and how it’s delivered, and never neglect investing in those relationships while you chase after the elusive donors who really aren’t looking for another place to give.

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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