Fundraise like a girl

If you’re not doing so already, you should learn to fundraise like a girl — a Girl Scout that is!

Every year about this time, Girl Scout troops nationwide hold their annual cookie fundraiser, generating over $700 million dollars of revenue for their programs.

For about $5 a box (prices vary by region) supporters can feel good about donating to a worthy cause — while getting their favorite sweet treat in return!

A fundraising model to emulate

Once upon a time, an Oregon Girl Scout troop organized a bake sale. Today, nearly a century later, the Girl Scouts of the USA command a cookie empire, unloading upwards of 200 million boxes a year.

This incredible growth story should serve as an inspiration for non-profit organizations (and for-profit companies too).

The Girls Scouts seem to have discovered a core truth of fundraising: Offer is king!

Creating an offer your donors can’t refuse

Communicating the specific offer — the WHAT, WHEN and WHY of what you want your donor to do — is the secret to successful fundraising.

The most successful fundraising offers…

1. Present a problem or opportunity

Donors respond best when given a specific situation that demands a specific response.

When those cute little girls in green ask, “Would you like to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies?” you know you’re being invited to do so much more than buy a box of treats. You’re investing in a girl’s future and the future leadership of our country. What an opportunity!

Instead of just asking for money, are you regularly inviting your donors to participate in the opportunities or problems your organization is trying to address?

2. Offer a solution

Donors give because they want to help. They give because they believe their donation will solve a problem, provide an opportunity or create a solution.

The Girl Scouts have packaged their solution in a colorful 4×6 box. For each box of Girl Scout cookies sold, a nominal amount goes to the baker. But 75% of your $5 goes toward funding programs that help girls: summer camps, community service projects, scholarships and local and national programming.

Do your donors clearly understand how their donation makes a difference in the lives of the people your organization is serving? 

3. Are cost effective

You need to connect the problem and the solution to your donor’s wallet. The offer should feel relevant and worthwhile to the donor — regardless of their giving level.

The Girl Scouts have hit the nail on the head with their offer. Simple. Affordable. Something that the donor can grab on to. $5 for a box of cookies. Donors can do the math themselves…$25 for five boxes. $50 for ten boxes. $100 for twenty boxes.

Are your offers appropriate to your donors’ various levels of giving? Not too much, not too little? Attractive to both low- and major-givers?

4. Communicate urgency

Your donor needs specific reasons not to delay her response. Urgency is key. Give a meaningful deadline. And make it clear to your donor what will happen if she fails to act.

The Girl Scouts benefit from running their cookie sales as a time-based campaign. Because cookie season comes but once a year, people are especially motivated to get those Thin Mints or Tagalongs while they can.

Do you clearly communicate deadlines to your donors, and what will happen if you don’t hear from them?

5. Provide donor benefits

Donors give for altruistic reasons — to help the organizations they support. But they also give to receive personal benefits — to feel good, to get a tax deduction, to fulfill a faith-based or charitable obligation, to make the world a better place.

Do you regularly remind your donors how supporting your organization also benefits them, their community or their world?

6. Communicate emotion

The most successful fundraising offers evoke emotion. They bring a tear to a donor’s eye. They fan the flames of injustice. They cause the donor’s heart to swell with “feel goodness.”

The Girl Scouts have this one down! It’s pretty hard to say “No” to a pint-sized peddler sweetly asking, “Would you like to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies?” And their smiles when you say “Sure!”…Priceless. 

Are you tapping into your donor’s emotions? If not, you might benefit from this blog post: Are you making your donors angry?

7. OPTIONAL: Create anticipation and establish tradition

We all know when Girl Scout cookie time is coming! The presales get our mouths a-watering. Then we count the days till we receive the news, “Your cookies are here!” Whether it’s Girl Scout cookies or other annual campaigns like Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree drive,  Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Thanksgiving dinner  or Compassion Sunday’s annual child sponsorship drive, donors love tradition and look forward to the annual fundraising drives of their favorite charities. 

Are you creating anticipation and tradition with your donors through seasonal campaigns or annual fundraisers? If you’re not, somebody else probably is. 

A special shout-out

…to Addy, my favorite Girl Scout cookie peddler. She also understands other key fundraising best practices…the importance of promotion (she created a video), multi-channel marketing (she posted to Facebook) and thanking her donors (she promptly sent me a handwritten note).