I bought a rowing machine last Christmas. It’s still causing arguments.
Full disclosure: I was not in a debate club. I would have been sliced and diced in moments, as I tried to find common ground so everyone could be nice to each other.
Take a look at the fundraising mail making its way to your mailbox and inbox.
You may notice organizations bringing out their inner lawyer.
In a debate, you want an argument that’s so good, so rock solid, that no one can dispute it. Done. You win.
That’s not how fundraising works
In fundraising, your very best argument will slide right by your donor’s eyes or ears. It may briefly pass through their brain. But it will be the part of their brain that tells them:
Give away money? Are you mad?
Yeah, that’s not the part you want to talk to.
Arguments – or to be nice, let’s say, rational reasoning – don’t persuade hearts to act.
Oddly enough, it’s just science. We know now that our logical, rational side doesn’t respond to requests for money. Instead, we have to go right to the place where we feel.
Did high school ruin things for fundraisers?
Maybe it was all those school papers we had to write. Do you remember? When writing that paper you were probably taught to begin with your thesis, then several arguments supporting your thesis, then a conclusion.
In school, the better your arguments and the clearer, the better your grade.
In formal debates, there are similar rules: assertions and rebuttals. It’s all very controlled, factual, and defined.
But fundraising isn’t logical. It’s emotional. You don’t have to be great in a debate to be good at fundraising writing.
Raising money takes a different kind of smart
You’ve undoubtedly heard about “emotional intelligence”. People with high emotional intelligence are more aware of emotions – both their own and others. That’s a good skill to refine for fundraisers.
I don’t want to give you the impression that fundraising doesn’t take hard work and study. I’ve been at it for more than 30 years now and I’m still learning every day. The skills you’ll need aren’t as straightforward as a debate or a formula. And, frustratingly, any rules that we define have a funny way of changing as we learn more.
Bottom line: the right way to fundraise is the way that raises more money!
But we’ve learned enough to know that we need to approach potential donors’ humanity. Doing that takes something tougher than a good argument.
It takes vulnerability and even bravery.
If you write – or see in your mail – an appeal that relies only on good arguments, it’s probably because someone is afraid. Afraid to really ask for help, instead of implying the need. Afraid to admit that her organization cannot possibly do the work well alone. Afraid to put her heart onto the page – because rejection, even from someone you don’t know, still hurts.