In my experience it’s almost impossible not to get swallowed by the whale. By that I mean to get so wrapped up in your own organization’s comings and goings that you think the world begins and ends within your office’s walls.

It’s natural. Everybody does it – at least sometimes. It’s not your fault.

As a full-time fundraiser with a charity, you’re busier than you ever imagined you would be. Tasks, pressures and deadlines swirl around you each and every day. You work incredibly hard at the details of everything on your desk. It’s absorbing, time-consuming and all consuming isn’t it?

But there’s a potential problem in this – one that I see all the time. You’re so wrapped up in your organization and its details that you come to assume over time that your donors are as interested in the nitty gritty as you are.

Guess what? They’re not. In fact, they may or may not be all that interested in your organization at all.

Let me put it another way. Your donors aren’t all that concerned with HOW your charity does its good work. They’re more concerned about WHY you do it and WHAT happens when you do it.

Stop and think about your car for a minute. Do you really understand HOW the internal combustion engine works? Do you know in detail HOW anti-lock brakes are made differently than old fashioned brakes? Do you know HOW high octane gasoline is different than regular?

Of course you don’t. You want to buy a car, turn on the ignition, fill it with gas – and go. That’s all you care about. (And, that’s all I care about too!) You simply want your car to take you where you want to go. The rest is unnecessary detail.

What your donors are definitely interested in is your cause. The cause is WHY they give. You are the WHO they support in order to get to their WHY. Here are some examples:

  • People don’t give to their local homeless shelter so much as they give to the homeless. Homelessness is the cause.
  • People give to help abandoned animals through their local SPCA or humane society. The animals are the cause.
  • People give to Amnesty International in order to show their support for the cause of human rights.
  • People make emergency donations to the Red Cross to help disaster victims.
  • People don’t give to their food bank so much as they give to the hungry.

When I was a young fundraiser, I learned an expression that has stayed with me to this day. It remains my most important piece of philanthropic wisdom. It goes like this: “the institution has no needs”.

That’s right. Your charity has no needs. The people or trees or animals you help have great needs. Your charity is simply the organizational vehicle that gets the donor’s gift to those in need. It’s a three link chain. The donor. Your organization. The need. In this chain, your organization is very small – while the donor and the need are very big.

I know. It’s a bit of a blow to the ego. But it’s true. And if you remember it – and practice this idea constantly – you’re going to raise more money.

This month’s tip is very simple:

Everything you write or say to your donors should follow the 60:40 rule. Sixty per cent of what you say should be about the cause. Forty per cent of what you say should be about your organization.

It’s not that hard to do once you practice it a bit.

But I’ll wager that if you go right now and read your organization’s last annual report or go online to look at your web site or read your last direct mail appeal, you’d fail the 60:40 test.

So go and change that. Keep the cause front and centre. Put the donor’s interest ahead of your own. Think from the outside in. When you do, your donors will see the difference – and your donors will respond like never before.

This article originally appeared at Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy eNews.