What is your real goal with fundraising?
Think about this carefully.
Obviously (I hope), it’s not just to raise ‘money.’
Money is only as good as the purpose to which it’s applied.
So what’s fundraising for?
Have an answer?
Jot it down.
Okay… let’s get to it.
Your Fundraising Reality Check
If you answered “furthering our mission,” you’re only half right.
Because, if no one else values your mission but you (or a handful of folks) then you’re waging a losing battle.
Nonprofits exist because they meet real needs.
Nonprofits are publicly supported because the public perceive these needs as genuine and critical.
Have you made a strong enough case that the needs you meet are critical? That if you ceased to exist, bad things would happen?
Philanthropy is a Values-Based Proposition
When your organization enacts values that people (potential donors) also wish to enact, then you’ve got an opportunity. You can make a values match.
When you’re doing something very few people care about, then you’re going to have a problem.
Because, you see, all of philanthropy is based on the value-for-value exchange.
I (the donor) give you (the charity) something of value (money or time). In exchange, you give me something of value (usually an intangible such as a ‘feel good’ that I did the right thing, fulfilled a moral or religious obligation or paid a debt).
So your real goal with fundraising is to enable your donors to enact their values in a meaningful way.
Since their values match your values, it’s a win/win.
Which is Why You Must Approach Fundraising in a Donor-Centric Manner
Always, always ask: “What’s in this for the donor?”
But don’t stop there.
“What else could be in this for the donor?”
The more meaningful you can make giving to your cause, the better your chances for sustaining your donor’s giving over time.
This is why donor stewardship (aka relationship building) is so important.
If I as the donor feel good once, that’s nice. I made a gift. I got a thank you. Yay me.
But then I move on. And the ‘feel good’ evaporates.
Research on Emotion Shows that Positive Emotions Wear off Quickly
Our emotional systems like newness per extensive research by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. So if I don’t hear back from you until the next time you ask for a gift, I’ll likely have forgotten all about you by then. Maybe I’ll repeat the gift. Maybe not. I certainly am unlikely to give you more.
In fact, research by Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, on the impact of a one-time act of gratitude shows it recedes quite quickly. Study participants wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Recipients immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention; however, benefits decreased by 50% within a week and disappeared completely within a month.
In other words, to be effective gratitude must be repeated.
Let’s Come Back to Your Goal with Fundraising
Isn’t part of it to be able to show gratitude?
When you think about fundraising as being self-serving (to get you towards your monetary goal), you really miss the point.
The point is to make something possible — something for which many, many people can feel gratitude. The people you serve. Their families. Their neighbors. Future generations. Your community. The world. It’s about a lot more than raising a buck.
Gratitude really goes against the self-serving bias because when we’re grateful, we give credit to other people for our success.
Are you giving your donors the credit they deserve?
Are you making fundraising about your donors’ meaningful actions?
Keep a Donor Gratitude Journal
The benefits of gratitude are enormous. It makes you happy. It makes other people like you. It makes you healthier. It boosts your career. It strengthens ‘feel good’ emotions. It boosts optimism. It reduces materialism. It increases spiritualism. It enhances self-esteem.
It does all these things for both the gratitude giver and the gratitude recipient.
It may sound hokey, but try keeping a gratitude journal.
Not just any gratitude journal, but a Donor Gratitude Journal.
Write down five things each week about which you’re grateful to your donors.
You can be grateful to specific donors, or to donors as a group. Just get in the habit of thinking about what, specifically, you’re grateful for. For example:
I’m grateful to Mary because her challenge grant will make it much more likely we’ll reach our goal.
I’m grateful to George because he took me out to coffee, shared a bit of himself with me, and brightened my day with funny stories about his grandchildren.
I’m grateful to Acme Corporation because their volunteers spent an afternoon here helping us really get a lot of important work done.
I’m grateful to John’s assistant for helping me get through to him.
I’m grateful to Joanne because she agreed to invite her friend here for a tour.
As you get into this habit, you’re more likely to have gratitude top of mind. When you next interact with your donor, you’re more likely to tell them what you’re feeling.
This will keep your donor feeling good over the long term.
Demonstrate Gratitude in Your Workplace
Getting in the gratitude habit begins at home. And at the office.
Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.
So remember to say “thank you” to the people who work for and with you. You may find those employees feel motivated to work harder.
Make Fundraising Transformative, Not Transactional
The real purpose of fundraising is to enact transformative change. Preferably, on a large scale. A scale beyond which one human being could accomplish on their own.
People give to organizations because, by so doing, they can accomplish that which they could not accomplish on their own.
- I may be able to feed one homeless person by myself, but I alone cannot end homelessness or hunger.
- I may be able to show support for my local arts group through attendance, but I alone cannot assure their continued existence.
- I may be able to recycle my garbage, but I alone cannot stop global warming.
- I may be able to sign a petition about an area of concern, but I alone cannot fight that issue in the courts.
If you can, don’t just write what you’re grateful for in your journal. Write a thank you note to your donor, or simply pick up the phone and let them know how you feel!
This will make the giving experience transformative for them, as well as for your organization.
The true meaning of fundraising?
Transformation and gratitude.
A never-ending cycle of voluntary action for the public good.
Want to get in the gratitude groove?
Take this free gratitude assessment offered by The Happier Human. Get a low score? No problem. You can get in the groove fairly quickly by practicing one or more of the gratitude exercises they suggest for about a one-month period. Not only will it improve your fundraising, it will improve your life. [BTW: When I took the test, I found I need to channel gratitude more frequently, rather than more intensely. I would guess that’s the case for many working in the social benefit sector. We do it. Just not enough.]
You may also enjoy my Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook. I promise you’ll find dozens of actionable tips to help you retain and upgrade more donors. The Playbook comes with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee. [BTW: if you join Clairification as an enrolled ‘student’ you get generous discounts on all products. In this case, you get 54% off. You also have access to every single one of my 600+ articles. ‘Clairification School’ benefits are yours for a full year.
One click puts you on the pathway to passionate philanthropy for the full year. ENROLL HERE FIRST. Then log in and grab your discounted Playbook.
This article appeared originally as a guest post by me for Nonprofit Pro, February 2017.