I wanna talk about YOU

The greatest threat to nonprofit fundraising these days is likely not declining results.

No, they aren’t the threat that should be keeping us awake at night. In fact, they aren’t really even a threat. They’re a symptom — a symptom of a more ominous danger to fundraising: insider thinking.

What do I mean by “insider thinking”? Just this: A preoccupation with our organization’s viewpoint, agenda and priorities that prevents us from developing fundraising primarily for and about donors.

I’ve never met a fundraiser who’d say, “Our fundraising needs to be more organization-focused.” But we all occasionally fall into the insider trap, don’t we?

Rest assured, as I preach this worthy message, I have in mind the great biblical admonishment “Physician, heal thyself.” I’ve repented of my bent toward insider thinking, but still occasionally lapse into org-speak. Even the most experienced fundraisers do.

As a recovering insider, let me encourage you to keep the spotlight on those who support your cause — what they think, what’s important to them, what they value and why they give. And then act based on that understanding.

Here’s how you can tell if you’re pointing the spotlight in the right direction.

“Enough talk about me. Now I want to hear what you have to say…about me.”

I recently reviewed a highly respected ministry’s fundraising materials. In one piece, the use of I, me, we, us, our and the organization’s name surpassed the use of you and your by a ratio of 5:1.

My goodness, shouldn’t it be the reverse of that?

While this is just one example, so many ministries I see today don’t recognize their well-intentioned preoccupation with themselves.

And that’s a shame, because insider thinking prevents otherwise outstanding organizations from understanding the goals, needs and preferences of their audience…from realizing that donors don’t see themselves reflected in the organization’s brand…and from recognizing that supporters aren’t hanging on our every word.

Insider thinking sprouts from the depleted soil found under much of today’s fundraising landscape to become:

  • Weak offers that donors are unlikely to support.
  • Flimsy campaign strategy that givers find easy to ignore.
  • Donor-excluding messaging — such as the universal “Support Our Ministry” headlines that dominate fundraising today.

How will we attract support, we unwittingly think, if we don’t talk about our programs, our successes, our statistics?

Of course, donors do need to know who and what we are. But a little “me-talk” goes a long way. Let’s be so careful, for example, about falling into the trap of copy such as: “Your gift can help us feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and transform lives.”

I bet you agree. It would be much stronger as: “Your gift will feed…

Is there any chance this kind of thinking has a foothold at your organization?

We need to remember that donors give because they want to see their personal charitable giving goals accomplished — to experience meaning and fulfillment through their support of a worthy cause. And they’ve chosen our organization as the channel through which to invest their God-given resources.

They don’t necessarily want to help us do anything. And unless we can assure them that investing their time, talent and treasure with us will accomplish their ends, we are wasting our effort.

Refocus your fundraising and improve your results

Our goal is to be truly focused on donors. Which means we should work hard to develop donor communication that…

  • Presents a compelling need or opportunity the donor badly wants to see met
  • Offers real donor benefits: meaning, significance and even joy
  • Explains clearly why they should care
  • Expresses genuine urgency

If we do, it’s no surprise that results improve. In a yearlong head-to-head test for one Masterworks client, our “extreme donor-focused” newsletter handily beat the in-house created control, more than DOUBLING revenue.

When I say “extreme donor-focused,” I mean a newsletter that is heavy on donor recognition (newsletters are a great place for this), presents an irresistible offer and is a delightful read to boot. In other words, a newsletter that:

  • Is to and for donors
  • Has a high “you quotient”
  • Is packed with emotion
  • Feels easy to read and scan
  • Contains a clear call to give again
  • Refreshes and reengages with each issue

These results are extraordinary, to be sure. But the lesson is clear: When our communication speaks to donors, they’ll respond.

 Become an outsider for a day

The most successful organizations I know have realized that they can raise funds, find new partners, attract volunteers and make interacting with them a genuine blessing, even though they talk only occasionally about themselves. And maybe precisely because they talk only occasionally about themselves.

The majority of the time, they’re talking about their donors.

Why not make it a point this week to carefully examine, with the eyes of an outsider, whether your communication is focused on you or your donors and prospective donors? I’m talking about web, appeal and newsletter copy; your online donation process; photos; photo captions; calls to action; branding elements — all of it.

Better still, ask a trusted colleague to help you. Ideally, someone outside your organization who is independent and truly able to make the crucial distinction between organization- and donor-focused communication.

If you’re concerned with what you find, then start taking steps now toward becoming more of an…outsider. I have to believe you’ll see improvement in your results.