Sometimes, we are hesitant to reach out to donors because we are afraid that we are bothering them. David from The Common Good Philanthropy shifts that mental model by thinking about fundraising as community building and offers practical advice on how to connect with our donors on a personal level.
Let’s talk about fundraising and community building. Often in our line of work, we hear people are hesitant to get involved in fundraising. But they are much more likely to get involved in community building.
I love the idea that fundraising is community building. I've spent my entire career working with donors who are moms and pops. I get so excited around the idea of people coming together to make a change to try and build their community to improve the world by pooling their resources and effort. The outcome of fundraisers’ work is not just raising money. It’s about making the world a better place by motivating people to do good together.
For a lot of smaller organizations, they feel icky when thinking about fundraising. What’s your advice for them?
The big advantage for small nonprofits is that while the resources may not be there, they have the ability to have that really strong and direct relationship with donors. It doesn’t matter the size of the gift. The important thing is how close the organizations are with their donors. The most important thing is to get your donors to come along that journey with you. Inspire them to the way you are making your community a better place. The smaller the organization, the more tangible the end goal for fundraising is. You don’t need to be filtering your message through a huge PR team. You can talk directly to a donor about how a $50 dollar donation will have X, Y, Z outcome.
Absolutely. One of the things you and I have talked about in the past is really making things personal, as opposed to being super professional. What are some ways that we can make our communication feel really personal?
It drives me up the wall to see organizations that are so desperate to sound like an army full of suits carrying like 1960s Mad Men-style briefcases. That's really not how human beings work. Think about how you speak with somebody when you're having your coffee with them. Or you get together with a friend over a glass of wine. What does that sound like in comparison to a sponsorship request letter? How do we make sure that everything we put out there looks and feels like a message your grandparents might write you on holidays, or that conversation over the phone with your sibling or your best friend? That’s the kind of tone we really need to aim for every time we're connecting with our donors. It’s really important that we value what we know and what our experiences are. And that we use that innate ability to connect with people and everything we do around how we talk to our donors, no matter what size of the organization.
In our sector, so many of us undervalue our work. How does that feed into our ability to connect with people in fundraising?
It goes right at the heart of your question around the idea that fundraising feels icky but community-building feels positive. So many of us find ourselves apologizing for the fact that money given to our organizations is attached to the idea of creating a positive outcome somewhere. As a result, we are worried about bothering donors, rather than exciting them about an amazing thing that they're super passionate about, and letting them know about this opportunity that they have to participate in this amazing change that will happen to either transform all of human society or one small corner of our neighbourhood.
How do we really tap into donors’ interest in our communication?
We all have super exciting stories to tell. We all have exciting initiatives that are happening in our charities. We have to remind ourselves that while the work might not be exciting to everybody on the planet, it certainly is to the subset of people who are passionate about the work you do.
I think about a client we worked with last year and they're a well known but small arts group. They're well known in their community in Western Canada, and we were doing some capacity building with them. We had the opportunity to interview some of their donors. This organization had a serious financial blow that happened to them a few years before and their donors really came through to help them survive. Some were larger donors, but some of them were just loyal donors that might be sending 50 or 100 dollars a year to help the organization. But all of them were saying to us that they were a little bit upset that when this terrible situation occurred, that the organization didn't go to them immediately. They really love and genuinely care about this organization. When we shared this finding with the client, they were just blown away. This idea that we were not bothering them when we ask them for money shifted their mindset.
Whether you're a hospice or a children's hospital or, or an arts group or amateur sports organization, what do your donors care about, and what is it about your work that they care about? Let’s go to tell them about, first of all, how their gifts are helping, but also all these other new things that are coming that they can participate in.
That's such a great story. What is your advice for organizations trying to get to know their donors?
The most important thing is actually talk to your donors one on one. Find out what was that initial spark, and what they're excited about that you did this year. If the answer is “I don't know, because I didn't hear from you”, that’s a very telling answer!
Many people are afraid of inviting donors to coffee. Their first fear is that they worry donors would say no. Can you debunk that a little bit?
First of all, some people might say no. Not everyone wants to have coffee with you. But that's alright. That doesn't mean they don't like you or your organization. But many, many people will say yes because they have come to your events and are really interested in the work that you do. If you can offer a direct connection to the organization versus just getting a letter or an email on December 31, they would love that. When you reach out to the donors, acknowledge their support, and explain what you are looking to bring to the table. It might be asking them for some advice around your programming, or maybe you want to tell them about something that you're going to be doing in the next year or two and give them that insider's view.
A big part of our communication with donors is being authentic. How do we find our authenticity?
Think about it this way: you and your donor actually have a lot in common. To begin with, you have connected through your organization. There was a reason why you took the position at the organization. Besides the fact that a paycheck is important, you likely choose your field of work, and there was a reason why you connected to the work that you're doing. That to me is that first kind of “in” that you have with your donor. What's exciting about what you're doing, even if it's just, you're new, and you're learning about it. That could be kind of exciting or that if a donor has been with the organization for a long time. Being authentic is important. Show that you are genuinely excited about what you are doing and how you are making a difference in the community through the organization.
How do emotion and storytelling play a role in our communication with donors?
Storytelling is the key to almost everything around how we connect with our donors, whether it's on paper on a screen or across the table. Humans are emotional creatures. Positive emotions like love and support are what bring us together, especially when we talk about community building. Our brains are hard-wired for stories. It’s how we learn and how we process information. While some people might want us to put stats in a report, what makes the stats come alive are the stories behind them. So the key is to find those stories and bring them to life and share them with donors.
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The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano