Anyone who has been in the field of fundraising for years can ply you with advice. I’m going to restrain the urge, however, and instead offer you two simple exercises for increasing your revenue.
Each is adapted from my book Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes.
What if we disappeared tonight?
This dirt-simple but revealing exercise forces you to zero in on why your organization and its activities really matter to outsiders. Guaranteed: the fresh perspectives you uncover will help you create fundraising communications that are far more persuasive.
Here’s what you do.
Gather a half-dozen or more stakeholders in a room: staff, board, donors, too, if you can. Pose this problem:
Let’s pretend our organization and its programs disappear tonight. Tomorrow, we’re gone. What will the world/community/individuals regret having lost?
This is a core exercise, not a make-work one. Attendees in my workshops who try it for even a few minutes are shocked, surprised, and then empowered by what they discover about their organizations’ true importance and impact.
In their bestseller, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath warn organizations against the “curse of knowledge”—the creeping inability of insiders to see themselves the way outsiders (e.g., donors with all their many values, concerns, interests, and connections) do.
The curse turns nonprofits irrelevant. They talk about things that don’t matter, in ways that don’t persuade. Going through the exercise of asking—If we were to disappear tonight, what would the world shed tears over losing?—helps break the curse of knowledge and gives you well-grounded answers to that most important of questions: Why would a donor care about the things we do?
Are you out of focus?
The “Several Sources Foundation” raises a great deal of money through direct mail. In its typical appeal to acquire new donors, the foundation runs a photo of a swaddled infant with the caption: “Baby Joseph, one of our 15,000 rescued babies.”
Which is one way to say it. But it’s not the donor-centric way.
Take a minute to rewrite this caption so that it’s more focused on the donor. As you scribble a new and improved version, I’ll hum the Jeopardy theme song.
Okay, time’s up.
If your donor-centric rewrite reads something like this, you’re on the right track: “Baby Joseph, one of over 15,000 babies rescued by your gifts.”
See the difference? The first caption grabs the credit for the organization. The second caption, “rescued by your gifts,” awards all the credit to the donors.
Rewriting a single caption won’t do much for your income stream, of course. But adopt a donor-centric voice overall in your fundraising communications and you’ll see resistance melt.
Benefit #1 to you: you’ll raise more money more easily. Benefit #2: you’ll retain your donors longer. If you make people feel essential to the successful completion of your mission, they stick around.
Pay attention: most fundraisers get this wrong.
The “donor-optional” way of addressing supporters goes something like this: “We did this. We did that. We were amazing. Oh, by the way, if you happened to be among those who sent in a gift, thanks a lot.” The donors are firmly consigned to the sidelines, cheering the team on.
However, donors are the foundation on which programs and mission stand. They are investors hoping to change and improve the world through their gifts. They aren’t merely an inconvenient source of cash.
The donor-centric way of addressing supporters puts the donor first and foremost: “With your help, all these amazing things happened. And without your help, they won’t.” Here, donors are the most important players and, as key members of your team, they deserve to be on the field. After all: without charitable investment, many organizations, maybe yours in fact, would shrink or sink.
Tom Ahern is author of Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes, Making Money with Donor Newsletters, How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money, and most recently What Your Donors Want … and Why.