“Your donors choose you. Not the other way around.” As a fundraiser, this is an important mantra to have. It reminds us that a donor’s money doesn’t go to the person who can best sell themselves, but to the cause that donor most believes in.
One way to irk anyone in fundraising is to compare their job to that of a salesperson—to that sleazy salesman who’s looking to make a buck, no matter the cost. And just like the salesperson who wants to increase their profit margin to no end, a fundraiser has no ceiling on how much money they’re looking for. However, the commonality between sales and fundraising stops there.
By living in a capitalistic society, you’re constantly exposed to sales pitches and commercials trying to sell you products. As a result, you develop this knee-jerk reaction whenever confronted by someone who wants to sell you their wares. You’re convinced that they are trying to take you for a ride, somehow. Gone are the days when a buyer is approached by a seller and that buyer assumes the sale is mutually beneficial.
If I go out on the town on a Saturday looking for a new refrigerator, I’ll feel perfectly comfortable speaking with the salesperson at Sears. After all, we’re speaking on my terms. However, if I went to Sears for a lawnmower and that same salesperson initiates a conversation about their refrigerators, then my first thought is this: This person is trying to take advantage of me. The product is identical, but because I didn’t have that initial need, they become extremely wary of the salesperson.
The funny thing is that in both situations, both the product and the motivations of the salesperson has not changed. The difference is the buyer’s expectations. The salesperson is working that job to make money; there’s no beating around the bush about that. And whether or not you’re in the market for a refrigerator, that refrigerator doesn’t change.
When it comes to fundraisers, the benefit that a donor will get out of their money is much less tangible compared to a buyer perusing a selection of home appliances. It’s a donation to an organization, which means they have to make their decision based off promises, trusting that their money is making a difference in a place they can’t directly see. The difference isn’t immediate either—whether it’s helping the community, or helping the less privileged in a third-world country, that change will be hard to see, and it won’t happen for weeks or even months after they sign that check.
In a way, asking for money is on par with begging. As a donor, your money can go towards helping someone with no direct benefit for you, but that small voice in your head wonders whether the person/cause asking for money is legitimate. Often times, this voice triumphs because giving away money is hard enough as it is. Bad apples have sullied the name of nonprofit—organizations like Kids Wish Network and the Cancer Fund of America only spend 1-3% of their donations on direct cash aid, with the vast majority of their income going to solicitors marketing their organization. Because of places like this, along with others that have permeated the media with their scandals, people are questioning the validity of organizations with even the most innocent of mission statements.
So, you have reality working against you, and you’re expected, as a fundraiser, to convince a potential donor to give you their money. What do you do?
People don’t like ambiguity, especially when it relates to surrendering their money. This is where you have to counteract the intangible nature of giving to a cause. If your organization’s been around the block for at least a little while, that means you have numbers to work with. Numbers are in everything. You need to learn how to take what you’ve done in the past, quantify it, then display it in easily digestible formats so that donors know EXACTLY where their money is going, how it’s going to change lives, and why existing donors choose you over the organization on the other side of town.
Also, be careful about talking about what you HOPE their money is going to do. As soon as you set your donor’s money up for possible failure, that donor will assume you’re just spreading the honey on your words. Like a sleazy salesperson. Give definitive, measured responses, and don’t allow anything to be up for interpretation.
And remember: Be succinct! Don’t be The Ramblin’ Man and go on and on about all the good your organization is going to do. Keep your information in the form of an elevator pitch—you should be able to say what exactly your organization is striving to do, and the steps you’ve already taken (with an example or two of evidence to back it up) in 60 seconds or less.
The ball will always be in their court, but you can’t be a pushover. If you give the donor an out or an excuse to move on, they’re going to take it. This is because you’ve got that salesperson stigma working against you. And when I say don’t be a pushover, I mean don’t act apologetic. Don’t feel sorry for asking for money (or at least don’t show it), but don’t get aggressive either. As soon as you get pushy, that puts the donor on the defensive.
Finally, here’s a very important point. Retaining donors is more important than acquiring them. Did you know: 88% of your donations come from 12% of your donors? Just check out this article by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, if you don’t believe me. Donor retention is both a deal maker and a deal breaker in fundraising, so you need to know what you’re doing, and how to properly hold onto them after your donors choose you over anyone else. But how? Donor management is all about building relationships, not about squeezing the pennies out of a person’s pockets. If a donor feels like they’re part of your organization and also feel like they’re making a difference in the world, then they’ll stick around for the long haul. And if you have the right donor management software to help you keep track of your donors and to keep in contact with them, that’s a must have as well.
There’s a very fine line you have to walk when acquiring donors and then retaining them. It requires quite a bit of finesse, and even more practice. Some people are better at this than others, but experience trumps all. Just remember—you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!