Fundraising is about using your heart as well as your head.
And maybe fundraising isn’t really about money at all. In the long-run, successful fundraising focuses on relationships. And good fundraisers use their hearts as much as their heads.
Does that mean every one of your donors needs to be someone you know personally? Not at all! Relationships differ. You probably have some people in your life who are in that first, tight circle. Family, probably. A partner or spouse. A best friend.
But it radiates out from that inner circle. And even the most casual relationships are still, in their way, relationships.
You probably also have relationships of differing importance with nonprofit organizations. There are the ones you love. And the ones you like. And the ones you ignore.
What moves you from “ignore” to like… and maybe love? Here are some of the “little” things to consider.
I can’t tell you how I cringe when I read most thank you letters I receive. Cold. Business-like. Boring. All about the organization and not at all about me.
It doesn’t have to be that way!
Here’s what may make people shrink from writing good thank you letters: it’s really hard to do it without opening yourself to the emotions involved. And getting emotional can feel weird at work.
Or maybe you’re willing but unsure about where to start? Read Lisa Sargent’s wonderful explainer. I wait for the day I can write one that comes close to hers. It’s a worthy goal!
My correct name means you like me
Keeping good data is another one of those things we often hand off to the newest person in the office. But it’s really important.
If someone you cared about kept calling you a name that wasn’t yours, how would you feel? Definitely unimportant to them. Probably annoyed. Or maybe hurt.
Do you really want to hurt me?
If you’re not sure, you can always ask. I used to include a recognition name in the body of a thank you letter. Something along the lines of “Our records show that you’d like to be listed as Mary Cahalane. If that’s incorrect, would you let me know?” Make sure you include your email address. Easy!
One of many donors might not seem worth the effort. But each donor is a “one”. And to them, that “one” matters a lot.
You don’t talk to your best friend as if you’re in a formal business meeting, do you? I mean, unless you’re really in a business meeting…
More likely, your conversations are casual, comfortable. You know which friends you can drop a casual F-bomb with and which you’d best not. If you’ve known each other a long time, you skip over bits… because you have a shared language.
Using personal, friendly language signals that someone is close to you. That you trust them. You’re not holding them at arm’s length.
And that’s where your donors think they are. So don’t push them away with stiff, formal language. Stay away from jargon. Instead, be warm. Be casual. Write as you talk. And talk as you would with someone you really like.
(But… general advice here: you probably don’t have too many donors you should drop an F-bomb with.)
Honesty is respect
You may have run into a situation where your organization is facing something negative. Something you want to be careful about communicating. A much larger than expected deficit. Something that went from advocacy to controversy. Maybe even an unlawful act by a trusted staffer.
You absolutely should take a little time to handle this carefully. But crossing your fingers, putting on a happy face, and changing the subject may only work so long. You can be honest and wise at the same time.
Honesty will pay off in the long term. Because dishonesty breaks trust. And people who want to trust your organization with their donations and their passion? They won’t do well if they feel cheated.
Communicating with a full heart
It’s an odd truth, and we often shy away from it. But people give from the heart, not the head.
That’s why all your best, most logical explanations don’t lead to gifts the way encouraging a donor’s passion does. We all make emotional donation decisions. Lots of us rationalize the decisions afterward. Just so we feel smart.
But now you know. Giving is emotional. So if you approach asking like Mr. Spock you’ll be missing the donor entirely.
Feel the feels. Go ahead, let yourself do it. Hopefully, you believe in your organization’s mission, right? What makes you feel good about it? Why do you think it’s worth supporting?
That’s a good place to start before you communicate with other people. Lead with your heart. It won’t let you – or your donors – down.
Worrying less about the dollars and more about the donors
You have a budget. And you have goals to meet. Where’s the heart in that?
Maybe your job even depends on those goals being met. (Short-term thinking if you ask me, but you didn’t ask me, did you?)
And yes, you have to take care of the money. You need to track everything, so you understand where you are. And what works.
But don’t let the money get in front of the people. Because if you focus on engaging people – collecting them if you will – you’ll raise more money. If donors or potential donors feel appreciated they’ll respond. If they see the dollar signs in your eyes… they won’t. Or not for long.
The good news about all of this is you don’t need super master skills. You just need to let yourself be human.