Can we celebrate donors without ignoring everyone else? You bet we can.
My friend Vu wrote this in his usual funny and Game of Thrones scented style about donor-centered fundraising.
His concern was that in focusing on donors’ roles and making them central, we were ignoring many other parts of our communities. We weren’t noticing the people who aren’t donors but are still needed if our organizations are to be effective.
My response was that I think we’re arguing about nothing.
I commented on his post, but I thought I’d expand on those thoughts here. (You should read what Lisa Sargent has to say here.) I really want to hear your thoughts as well.
Donor-centered fundraising works.
I probably first heard the term “donor-centric” 5 or 6 years ago. Since then, it’s become ubiquitous in fundraising circles. Everyone is claiming it though not everyone is really doing it.
But when I first saw the idea in print, I had one of those “well, yeah, of course” moments. It had been my approach already.
I’m not a pushy person. The hard sell, “just close the sale” approach never worked well for me. It didn’t fit. It was itchy and uncomfortable.
But appealing to people’s better natures? Being interested in donors and prospective donors as people? That fit. It’s what I would have done anyway. And while it rarely resulted in anything big and splashy during my career, it did produce results. And the good kind, the long-lasting kind.
I can still look at the donor list from my first fundraising job and see many donors who started giving during my time there. People I had gotten to know. People I looked forward to seeing at events. People who loved the place as much as I did.
So, yes, I’m evangelistic about this approach to fundraising. Because it’s just being a decent person. And because it works.
But here’s the thing: putting donors at the center of your fundraising doesn’t exclude the other people who make your mission possible.
Of course, the hard-working program staff on the front lines are heroes!
Of course, your volunteers, who donate their time and emotional support, are also heroes.
Of course, the people you serve are at the center of your mission.
But the place to celebrate everyone may not always be in your appeal letter.
Because the appeal letter (or thank you letter, or newsletter or anything directed at donors) is not about you. It’s not about your organization. It’s barely about your cause.
It’s about the person reading.
It’s how the writer is able to let the reader feel about herself. Does she see herself as empowered? As heroic even, when confronted with something that needs doing in the world? Does she feel like she has it in her to do something great? Does she feel angry about something awful that’s happening – and know she could help fix that? Or sad? Or scared?
Does the writing make her feel? And then feel like doing?
Because that’s the point. We’re not smarter than our donors. We can’t amaze people into giving because they’ve learned how awesome our organization is.
Fundraising is about waking up an army of heroes to join you in your mission.
It’s about inviting people in by letting them sense their own power.
To put it in Vu’s language: donors are unicorns, too. We fundraisers just help them see it.
Photo by Olaf Gradin (Flickr: Super Heroes) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons