Think Like a Fundraiser, Feel Like a Donor

December 11, 2013

I believe that to be great fundraisers, we have to work at understanding the donor experience. We have to relate to donors where they are and we have to feel.

As fundraising professionals it is incumbent upon us to ask for money, to employ strategy, use leverage tactics, focus on retaining donors and aim to generate maximum revenue. We need to think, have a knowledge base, evaluate and plan. We use moves management systems, prospect research databases, retention/renewal/attrition strategies, customer relations software.  We strategize about who we’re going to call, write, ask – how often and for how much. We steward, cultivate, educate, solicit. The days and weeks can whirl by with meetings, proposals, writing, presentations and work.

Donors on the other hand are feeling and living the giving experience. They want to save lives, make a difference, change the world. Donors give because they care, or have been moved or inspired in some way – could be they’re touched personally by your cause, they’ve heard a story that moved them, they’re carrying on a family commitment or they just want to do good. How much they give, how often they give, whether they give just once or for the long term mostly comes down to how they feel about your cause and how they feel about the experience they’re having as donors.  Fundamentally donors want to do good, to know they’ve done good and they want to feel good.

For fundraisers it’s about raising money and for donors it’s about giving money – we’re at different ends of the same continuum.

It’s our job to meet donors where they are. It’s our job to connect with them and to ensure they feel connected to the charities they give to. So, how do we do that?

I could give you 8 tips but rather I’d like to share some of the fundraising gospel I learned from the great Hank Rosso and Kim Klein when I was a relatively new fundraiser in the early 90’s. This vintage stuff still applies today…

  • People give to people
  • The institution has no needs
  • Fundraising is not about money
  • Asking for money is a good thing

People give to people

People are most often inspired to give when the case for support is articulated through a story. I’ll never forget interviewing a young woman who had cystic fibrosis some years ago. She was to be the signatory for an appeal letter.  She was in her early 20’s, had spent much of her life in the hospital and knew she would live for a few more years, at most.  She talked about her desire to just live a normal life, to have children, a job, get married and she felt none of those things were possible for her.  She was grateful that research to that point had added years to her life. She expressed hope that by telling her story people would be inspired to give so that research could be funded so that babies born with CF today might live longer and more normal lives than hers.

To do justice to writing her story, I had to get into her shoes.  I had to try to feel what life was like for her and I had to do my best to share that with donors. Donors gave to her, because of her and because the organization that shared her story was intelligent enough to know that emotion was a good strategy.

The institution has no needs

It’s not about you or the organization you work for. Your charity is a conduit, that’s all. You exist to facilitate the giving of donations and the doing of good work. Donors do not give to you, they give through you. Every charity has an obligation to ensure donor funds are acquired and stewarded in an ethical and accountable way.

Fundraising isn’t about money

Fundraising is about meeting a need, fixing a problem …saving lives, making a difference, changing the world.

I had the good fortune to hear Hélène Campbell speak at Congress recently – she’s a young woman from Ottawa who has raised great awareness for organ donations, largely through talking about her own need for new lungs.  Using twitter and by catching the attention of celebrities Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres, Hélène has inspired thousands to register for organ donation. Hers is an amazing story of hope, fortitude, kindness and courage.  Check out her story at www.alungstory.ca.

Asking for money is a good thing

It’s an honorable thing.  But all too often it is seen as a necessary evil that nobody wants to do.  Why? Because often times when you ask, people will say no, or not right now, or not today. Getting a ‘no’ never feels good, but refusing to ask can’t feel any better.

Many years ago I stood in front of a board of directors for a local organization of a very worthy cause.  They were struggling with the idea of embarking on a capital campaign – they just couldn’t imagine why anybody would want to give to their organization and they couldn’t imagine themselves asking.  I asked them to look at each around the room and share with us all why they were there and how much they had given over their years of involvement.  I asked them to talk about how being involved and giving made them feel.  And then I asked them why they would ever think to deny everyone else in the community from enjoying the same feelings of satisfaction they themselves had enjoyed.  They saw things differently after that and were able to move forward with their campaign.

Most fundraisers I know don’t have trouble thinking like a fundraiser (likely why they got the job) but many either find it difficult or just don’t take the time to feel like a donor.  Here are a few questions to ponder…

  • Do you know how your donors feel about their donor experience with your organization?
  • Do you assume that just because people give that they’re happy and having a good experience as a donor?
  • Do you use tools to measure or evaluate donor satisfaction?
  • Do you engage donors beyond transactional giving?
  • Do you take the time to chat with your donors?
  • Do you have the time to chat with your donors?
  • Does your organization encourage donor contact?
  • Do you care?

This article originally appeared at Hilborn: the leading provider of information to Canada’s nonprofit sector.?

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Jose Van Herpt, CFRE

Jose Van Herpt, CFRE

Fundraiser. Artist. Nature lover. Peacemaker. Experience junkie. Traveler. Philanthropist. Book enthusiast. Mom to all.