Becoming a Skeptic to Improve Fundraising

Me? Not so much…

Don’t get me wrong. I really believe in what you do. I want to end homelessness/feed the hungry/bring about justice/preserve nature/educate people and so many other important causes. But I just haven’t bought into your organization as the only solution.

The problem, as I see it (and read it and hear it on multiple platforms), is that fundraisers eventually know enough to forget that the “PD” (potential donor) doesn’t know nearly as much. Unless there is a logical  connection (e.g. a satisfied alumnus), the PD can’t figure out what your “secret sauce” really is and why your nonprofit is the ONE that really deserves money and loyalty.

Don’t misunderstand — as your PD, I’m well-educated. I have disposable income and follow world events. But I don’t sit in on your board meetings, I don’t talk firsthand to your staff and I don’t read the executive summaries of the reports that show the impact you made using grant funding.

As a fundraiser, we have to start with that reality, and then work to change it. And that requires a healthy dose of skepticism. Only then can we figure out how to talk to PDs and turn them into loyal supporters who are at least pretty convinced we’re one of the best — if not THE best — solutions to the problem we care about solving.

To view your fundraising as a skeptic and then identify the most effective way to communicate so your PDs embrace it, ask yourself some questions.

  1. So what? Your organization is busy doing X, or it’s about to launch Y. What difference is that going to make? You helped Z people last month. Did that really make a difference in the problem? Be honest. Be bold. Find the gold nugget in all the surrounding pyrite.
  2. Who’s doing it better? This is not information you’re collecting to share with your donors, but it is likely information some of your PDs have. Your job is not to point to another organization’s flaws, but rather to use this information to develop an explanation of what your organization is doing differently that makes your approach the best choice for your PD.
  3. What is our “unique selling proposition”? This marketing term is from the 1940s, but it’s still relevant. We may now call it a more contemporary term, but the question it seeks to answer is the same, regardless of the nomenclature: What makes our organization stand head and shoulders above everyone else in the business of doing whatever it is we do? You may not be the biggest or the flashiest, but your PD sees the possibilities. What makes a PD fall in love with your organization is a fierce belief that YOU have a RIGHT answer to the concern they are PASSIONATE about.
  4. What’s the best story to show this specialness? It’s not enough to know what your secret sauce is; your PDs need to understand it and want more of it. Statistics are nice, but it’s hard to get excited about a cold, hard number. But tell a story of how your approach to whatever it is you do best is changing the world — even if it is on a smaller scale than another organization — and I’m going to “get it.” I may not give, but if I do, I will be more likely to be loyal because I believe your unique approach is what’s really going to change things over time.

To create fundraising that turns PDs into loyal partners means taking off the rose-colored glasses and letting yourself be skeptical about everything. That’s how you put yourself in the PD’s place and find language and images to make your fundraising messages credible. The result? When PDs understand what you stand for, they become more likely to connect with your organization, not just the broad cause.


Published in NonProfitPro, June 4, 2020

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 40 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); a former instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; author of two online courses for UCLA Extension; and co-author of "The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management" (Wiley). Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration; 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; and an experienced voice in the fundraising space.

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