Even the most donor-focused nonprofits tend to talk a lot about their success.
And who could blame them? Through their good work, the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, lives are transformed. We should celebrate that.
But what is really the root of that success? Simple. A need is being met. And that’s what interests donors.
That’s why we must make our fundraising about the opportunity to meet needs — rescue people from danger, pain, misery, and, especially, hell. Talk about an invitation your donors will eagerly accept! But only if they believe it will happen by supporting you.
Of course, we know that wrapped up in all of this is donor psychology and spirituality. They give for their own good reasons, primarily to achieve their individual charitable giving goals and to experience the deep satisfaction of selfless generosity. But, bottom line, they want to see a need met.
So as fundraisers tasked with getting results, we should be talking about unmet need as often as we can.
The testing on this is unassailable: need trumps success. Need trumps positive outcomes. Need even trumps hope. Masterworks has tested cultivation appeal letters that feature success against need. Need wins.
Don’t misunderstand. You should pile on the gratitude, consistently recognize donors, and share organizational accomplishments. But the best places to do that are in newsletters, report-backs, well-timed emails, and gift acknowledgements (both mailed and emailed).
My humble encouragement, then, is to resist the temptation to turn your appeal letters into success reports and thank-yous. To consistently get the gift, you must present donors with a compelling need that has not yet been met (or an attractive opportunity), tell them how the problem can be solved, invite them to get involved by giving, and wrap it all in genuine urgency.
A big need, a big promise
We have to hang on to this truth: Donors have no reason to give if your communication stream is focused too much on success. That’s because their unmistakable conclusion will be, “The problem has been solved. I don’t have to give.” Instead, base your fundraising on the tension your warmhearted partners will feel when they are presented with a need that will be met only if they give. Then they can come to the rescue… and feel good about it.
To do that, you’ll need strong resource — stories, photography, easy-to-digest program information, and more — all demonstrating the need clearly, with authentic emotion, and in a way that presents donors with a big promise: “Your gift right now will help solve this problem.”
In the end, some donors will help no matter what you say. For them, your latest appeal letter may be nothing more than a reminder that they haven’t given in a while. But why risk it by focusing on a person who has already been fed, healed, or saved by faith. So many more haven’t! It’s the chance to help that person — to answer a genuine need, crisis, or emergency — that will inspire even more of your supporters to give generously.