Fundraising: Who Are You Raising Money for, Exactly?

• Fundraising the SMART Way • donors • cause marketing
Ellen Bristol

When it comes to fundraising,who are we raising the money for, exactly? I think we're raising it for our donors.

I was prompted to think about this question the other day, Watertight Fundraising!when I posted something on LinkedIn comparing sales and fundraising. Right away, I got the following response from an esteemed colleague: "Fundraising isn't sales...A salesperson is trying to persuade a prospective customer to part with his money to obtain some desired product, service, or information. It's a commercial exchange transaction -- something for something. A fundraiser is trying to persuade a prospective donor to part with his money for... well, for nothing."

But that's not strictly true. Our donors DO expect something in return for giving away their money. It may be something tangible, like that T-shirt you get when you renew your membership to the local NPR radio station, even though you can buy a decent t-shirt anywhere, and probably for less money. But just as likely, you get something entirely intangible, like feeling great, fantastic, grateful, when you make that big fat gift to the clinic that saved your kid's leg after the shark-bite incident.

Of course you're raising money for something! Although those of us who raise money for a living certainly know that those gifts are going to support our clients, employees and programs, maybe we should expand our thinking. Aren't we really raising money for our donors themselves? Don't we spend lots of time thinking and talking about the joy of giving? Take a peek into the culture of Jewish philanthropy, a three-thousand-year-old tradition which focuses on concepts such as "Tikkun Olam" which means "repairing the world," and "Tzedakah" which means the obligation or commandment to give to charity. You might not know this, but in that tradition, the terms "obligation" and "commandment" are synonymous with the term "blessing."

We might all be better off, and more successful at fundraising, if we reframed our thinking to acknowledge that donors get something deeply important out of making those gifts. Frankly, if they don't believe they'll get that "something," especially if it's something intangible, they probably won't give at all. If you'll excuse my using a sales term here, your nonprofit's UVP, its Unique Value Proposition, has to be iron-clad, powerful enough to persuade donors to hand over their hard-earned coin because they're going to get something in return, namely the opportunity to offer a blessing, to repair the world, to satisfy their urge to be charitable, and experience the altruism (or enlightened self-interest) that drives them.

Here's another way to put it. A few years ago, after that huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Dawn Dishwashing Liquid ads showed adorable little ducklings being washed with the product to clean off oil sludge. These days, Dawn runs those ads all the time, whether there's been an oil spill or not! When you buy their product, you get the satisfaction of knowing you "repaired the world" just by buying soap. The fact that you'll be able to clean your dishes is almost secondary and you don't even have to wait for the next environmental disaster. Dawn has morphed its cause-marketing strategy into its all-around sales strategy by giving  customers the added value of feeling good about themselves.

Please let me know if you think I'm completely out of my mind or if this makes sense to you. What experiences have you had with helping donors feel like they got something in return? Where have you failed to elicit those feelings, and why?  Maybe if we pool our experience, we can make a difference and improve fundraising results.



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