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Donors Want to Know: Why Your Organization?


Excerpted from The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks & the Answers All Donors Crave

Mrs. Steele was called to jury duty but declined to serve, stating, "I don't believe in capital punishment."

The judge explained. "Madam, this isn't a murder trial," he said. "It's simply a case in which a woman is suing her husband. He's accused of taking the $5,000 she gave him to buy a diamond necklace and donating it to charity."

"I'll serve," agreed Mrs. Steele. "I could be wrong about capital punishment."

How quickly our minds can change when we get more information.

To the question "Why should I be interested in your particular cause?" many have a ready answer. "Because we do good work," they say. Undoubtedly true, but countless organizations do good work.

As I make clear in my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, you need to distinguish yourself from the thousands of other great causes.

I often ask people attending my workshops to tell me their unique selling proposition (USP). What is the one thing that sets their respective organizations apart from all the others?

Your USP could be many things: your history, your leadership, your accomplishments, your low administrative costs, even the nature of your appeal (e.g., "Your gift of $25 will save an area of the Amazon Rainforest forever").

Dig deep enough, and every organization has a distinguishing feature.

But, funny enough, in many cases your greatest asset is one you haven't thought much about, even though it's a big reason people might choose to support you.

Your stories.

When your organization is involved in helping people create art, protect the environment, support human rights, or research diseases, you create stories.

And stories can be yours alone.

  • "I'm writing to you because 11 years ago the Crisis Hotline saved my daughter's life. She's now happily married and has a good job. It's because of you and other generous donors that so many desperate people in our community have someone to turn to."
  • "I remember it vividly," says Dr. Ken Baum, a glaucoma specialist at Kaiser Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, when asked about his first Seva Mobile Eye Camp. "We were in Tibet and drove for five days to reach an older woman who was completely blind from cataracts," Ken recalls. "We did the surgery, and the next day when she took off the patch she burst into tears. She saw her grandchildren for the first time. I'll never forget that."
  • "I gave up a lucrative vet practice because I saw how animals were suffering in our state and knew I had to do more. That's why I founded this organization."

People remember stories. They forget facts. Even decades later I still recall stories that motivated me to give to various causes.

This is the gift you offer to your donors—a concrete, memorable, emotional experience of helping others.

This is why your particular organization deserves support.

And you don't need epic drama to touch your donors. A simple heartfelt conversation is still one of your mightiest tools.

Elizabeth Crook was chair of the Nashville YWCA board and felt a desperate need to expand the domestic violence shelter. The municipal government had agreed to give the YW land if the organization would double the shelter's capacity. To be successful, Elizabeth knew she'd have to reach far beyond their current donor base.

Because Nashville is a center of corporate healthcare, there are scores of wealthy entrepreneurs in the area. Elizabeth's challenge, and the key to her success, was to find a way to secure some of this "new money."

She identified as one of her potential donors a very nice fellow, close to 50, never married. On the day they met, he turned the tables on Elizabeth with his very first question. "So what about this organization interests you?" he wanted to know.

For Elizabeth that was easy. She explained how it was a cause that appealed to her heart. She felt there was a real need. And she thought the YW provided this service better than anyone.

Then Elizabeth turned to the man. "And what is near and dear to your heart?" she asked.

At first the man was caught off guard.

"Children," he replied after a long pause, "especially children who've had challenging situations at home. When I was growing up, it was the Boys and Girls Club that gave me a place to be. If it hadn't been for them, I don't know how my life would have turned out."

With that story in hand it was easy for Elizabeth to focus his visit to the shelter on the high percentage of women who come into the shelter with children, the quality of the YW's programs for these youngsters, and the fact that 70 percent of men in the state prison grew up in violent homes.

The man was clearly moved by the women he met and the stories he heard. He pledged $100,000, an extraordinary gift from a first-time donor. And it all happened because Elizabeth took time to find out what touched his heart and presented her cause in a way that matched his values.

Elizabeth's question to her prospect is what I would call a killer question. Whose heart wouldn't open and expand when asked that simple, sincere, and disarming inquiry, "What is near and dear to your heart?

Other Excerpts from This Book

Donors-Want-to-Know-Why-Your-Organization_Harvey-McKinnon.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Harvey McKinnon, one of North America's leading fundraising experts and president of the Vancouver/Toronto-based fundraising consultancy Harvey McKinnon Associates. In addition to The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave, his works include Hidden Gold (Taylor); the audio CD How Today's Rich Give (Jossey-Bass); Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press); and (as co-author) the international bestseller The Power of Giving (Tarcher/Penguin), which was selected as an Amazon Best Book for 2005.

Topics: Fundraising