Did you ever wonder if there is a foolproof way to communicate with donors?
Actually, there is!
And it’s not about process.
It’s about another ‘P’ word.
Can you guess?
I’ll give you a hint.
It relates to the secret business your nonprofit is in.
You may think you’re in (arts, healthcare, human services, environment, social justice, animal rescue, education or whatever) but, fundamentally, your core business is something else. Something deeper.
Something that emanated from whoever founded your nonprofit.
Without this special something, your nonprofit wouldn’t exist.
Have you figured it out?
“P” is for PASSION!
If you think about it, you’ll know it’s the truth.
Passion is your nonprofit’s business. Your only business.
Without passion, you’ve got nothing.
Passion permeates your raison d’être.
Sure, it began with your founder’s passion. Today, it’s your constitutents’ passions. And your own passions. Tomorrow, it will be future generations’ passions.
What you and your supporters are most passionate about may or may not change over time, so you must constantly be vigilant to assure you’re connecting to what speaks most to both your own and your donors’ hearts at any point in time.Then endeavor to connect with donors in a meaningful way.
Always bring yourself, and your passions, to the table.
The vitality of your appeal depends on shared passion.
Vitality is what brings your case for support to life.
For philanthropy to have vitality, always remember you’re speaking to one donor, and their passions, at a time.
You see, even the most heartfelt fundraising appeal from you is not going to yield results if you send it to someone who doesn’t much care about the problem you describe.
Just because it’s important to you, doesn’t mean it’s important to everyone.
This is why we make such a big deal about the concept of ‘donor-centered’ fundraising.’ If you haven’t read Penelope’ Burk’s groundbreaking book on the subject, I commend it to you. It totally changed the way I approach fundraising. In a good way.
You need to make a match between your passions and your donor’s passions.
The art of fundraising is connecting with what’s in your heart; then acting on it.
I often say the heart of effective fundraising is passion, passion, passion.
- Get in touch with your passion
- Enact your passion
- Share your passion so your donor can enact theirs
If it’s just a job to you, and not a cause about which you’re particularly passionate, it can be difficult to present a compelling appeal, whether in person or in writing.
Sure, in a letter you can include all the elements. A story. A visual. A caption. A clear problem. A realistic solution. The donor becoming the hero. A specific ask for a specific purpose. A ‘P.S.’ that shows compelling urgency. But the appeal can still fall flat if there’s no passion beneath the prose.
The same holds true when asking for a gift face-to-face. You can say all the right words; but if you aren’t really connected to them, the other person will be able to tell. If you’re bored, stressed, confused or troubled, they’ll be bored, stressed, confused or troubled.
Moods are contagious.
Begin by getting in touch with your own passion.
Can’t you tell when people are faking it? When their heart isn’t really in it? What can you do to get to the heart of your mission?
For development staff, this may mean:
Get out in the field to witness your program in action.
Sit down with program staff to learn about their work on a daily basis.
Schedule storytelling times where staff share sorrows and triumphs.
Have a ‘mission moment’ at board and committee meetings where select beneficiaries attend and share how they’ve been helped.
Sit down with yourself and write down all the reasons your organization’s work feels meaningful and vital to you, especially right now.
For board members, this may mean:
All of the above.
Read scripture or other readings that inform your sense of moral/religious obligation.
Read up on the problem your organization addresses.
Talk to other board members about their experiences with your mission in action.
Do whatever it takes to get in touch with your passion for your cause.
Armed with passion for your cause, enact this passion by making your own gift.
It is my firm belief everyone working in development, and every board member, should make a philanthropic gift to the best of their ability.
This doesn’t mean staff must match what board members are giving. It does mean they should walk the talk.
If you feel giving to your nonprofit is out of the question because by virtue of working there you’re already ‘making a sacrifice,’ that’s a big chip on your shoulder that’s going to come across. If this is the case, it’s an issue that must be addressed first. You need to move folks (yourself included) from a place of distrust or hate to a place of love.
Which brings us to the critical importance of developing a culture of philanthropy (translated from the Greek to mean ‘love of humanity’). A culture in which everyone understands the mission doesn’t move forward without philanthropy – what Bob Payton of the Lily School of Philanthropy defined as “voluntary action for the public good.” It’s not about the amount of money.
It’s about what’s in everyone’s hearts.
Share the opportunity to enact passion with others.
Whether you’re writing an appeal letter or asking for a gift in person, speak from your own passion.
Describe the problem – or opportunity – in a manner that makes it crystal clear how important it is for the donor to join you in this mission. Because, if they don’t, something incredibly bad will happen. Or something incredibly good won’t happen.
If you’re talking to the right audience — people who are passionate about the work you do – these folks will welcome your invitation to match your passion to theirs.
Use the information in your database to help you communicate the messages your donors most want to hear.
How do you figure this out?
Pay attention to what floats your donors’ boats. When your donor indicates to you in any way what may be important to them – listen up. For example:
They earmark their gift for a particular program. Cat donors don’t give to dog issues.
They open e-news or blog articles about particular areas of interest. Children’s donors don’t give as passionately to seniors’ issues.
They open social media posts about particular subjects. Rainforest donors don’t give as passionately to over-all climate change solutions.
They share information about particular subjects with others. Emergency relief donors don’t give as passionately to evergreen needs.
They attend certain events. Scholarship donors don’t give as passionately to teacher salaries.
They join informational conference calls. Pro-choice donors don’t care as passionately about other social justice issues.
They sign a petition on a particular topic. Veterans’ donors don’t give as passionately to other at-risk adults.
They give you anecdotal feedback, in person or online. You must record everything you learn about your donors in searchable fields in your database. That’s the way you’ll able to segment your donors by different criteria.
They respond to a survey. Especially if you asked them which programs they’re most passionate about, it’s important to document this so the information doesn’t get lost.
They tell a staff or board member something about their interests (which is why you need to debrief folks who interact with donors).
And so forth…
All of fundraising is a value-for-value exchange. Donors give money; you give back an intangible ‘feel good.’
The more you tap into your donor’s passion, the bigger the ‘feel good’ – and the bigger the gift.
Never forget the secret business your nonprofit is in.
You are in the passion business!
The best way to do this business is never to lose sight of this truth.
It boils down to a pretty simple formula:
- Connect with your own passion.
- Enact your own passion
- Endeavor to understand your donor’s passion.
- Invite your donor to act on their passion.
- Come from a place of love.
- Tackle one subject at a time.
- Be specific about how your donor can benefit.
- Give clear action choices; not too many.
- Sprinkle in some flattery to make your donor feel good about their passion.
- Give positive feedback when they enact their passion.
Do this again and again.
This is how you’ll stay in business – in good times and bad.
To your success!
Passion is Particularly Potent in Major Gifts Fundraising
Individual major gift fundraising is both the most cost-effective form of fundraising and likely the quickest path to righting your ship when in the midst of a storm. Learn everything you need to know with this Certification Course for Major Gift Fundraisers. I’m partnering with the Veritus Group this year, because I think their course is the best, best, best you’ll find. You’ll get proven techniques that have helped fundraisers like you raise millions of dollars for organizations of different sizes and type. Whether you’re brand new to fundraising, transitioning into major individual gifts for the first time, or a seasoned pro, this course will help you improve results. You’ll learn how to identify more prospects, get more meetings and secure more and larger gifts.
NOTE: There’s a companion Certification Course for Managers and Executivesrunning simultaneously. If you manage the frontline fundraiser(s) and want to be sure your program is set up to yield the best results, you should take this course. Sign up with 3 or more people (you can mix and match the courses) and you’ll qualify for a nice discount! Email me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Chandan Chaurasia on Unsplash