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Making Your Needs Known

How dare we discuss your neediness, you may ask? Isn't it obvious?

Aren't you doing such a good job of show and tell that you leave people thinking you've got it all handled? This, of course, leaves them no room to contribute.

You've got to become masterful at walking the fine line. Let them know you're extraordinarily competent and solid. When it comes to covering the basics, you're the best.

But then there's that gap. The gap between where you are now and where you could be—if only. If only you had more resources—which is where they come in.

In every communication, you've got to portray both—your competence and your needs.

In every newsletter, at every event, in every one-on-one or small group presentation, even in every phone call—make it a habit.

You see, most folks out there don't wake up every morning worrying about the survival and long-term viability of your organization. In fact, odds are, they aren't thinking about you at all.

They need you to remind them, time after time, of why you need their support. If you aren't reminding them in every single encounter, you have no right to expect them to contribute to you.

So, let's look.

The last time you made a presentation to a local community group, what did you say?

You gave them the facts and the emotion. You got them all inspired. But did you give them a sense of your day-to-day frustrations? The kind of requests you have to turn down? The people you turn away? The internal juggling act your staff are carrying on?

Most folks out there don't have a clue about what it's like to work in the nonprofit world. They barely realize they relate to nonprofits every day. Sure, they belong to their professional association, a religious organization, their alumni club. They may have been to a local hospital lately, an arts performance. But "nonprofit organizations"? What do you mean?

They just don't make the connection.

And they certainly don't realize what it would be like to have nonprofit work be their main livelihood. Although they may volunteer for a charitable organization, the thought of working at one full-time might seem like a complete luxury, something one does after retirement.

Then there are the folks who absolutely cannot understand why anyone would work that hard for so little pay. Suffice it to say, the nonprofit world is a bit foreign to them.

You've got to let them in on the inside scoop. Why do you work there? What kind of satisfaction does it provide? How do you manage a budget with such unstable funding year to year?

Ultimately, how can they support you in fulfilling the mission of your organization? Just exactly where do you see them fitting in? How can they help?

Spell it out.

Some suggestions:

  • Show them some pie charts about your budget, your income sources, trends, etc.
  • Share some of the key strategic issues facing you right now.
  • Suggest several programs you'd like to start or expand, based on specific examples of people you've had to turn away.
  • Mention in-kind goods and services you need.
  • Mention capital needs you might have. What more could you do if you had that new building, new van, or new roof?
Paint the picture. Portray that gap—not in its every detail, but broadly enough so there's room for them to fill in the blanks or expand around the edges—to add what they alone can uniquely contribute.

Be sure to leave them with a wish list, from old sneakers to a new gymnasium. Cluster the items by who's wishing for them: the teachers, the students, the administration, etc.

You've got to let them know what you need so they can contribute. They want to know that their gift will make a big difference. They want to feel good about the investment they've made in you, and you don't want to disappoint them.

Terry Axelrod, Raising More Money
© 1999, Raising More Money

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Raising More Money, which trains and coaches nonprofit organizations in implementing a mission-based system for raising sustainable funding from individual donors. This system ends the suffering about fundraising and builds passionate and committed lifelong donors. For more information, go to
Topics: Communications