In honor of the last season of Game of Thrones, let’s talk about dragons.
Besides being mythical (maybe), dragons are big and fire-breathing and terrifying. Not something you want to handle on your own.
But for fundraising? You want a dragon.
I don’t mean something imaginary. I mean something very real, very big and right there.
Because if you want a rousing battle, you need a fight worth rousing for.
So what’s your organization fighting?
Is it big enough to matter?
I was reminded of this the other day when I was struggling with a piece for a client. Everything was nice and organized. Logical. In place. And I hated it.
In a Twitter conversation, Tom Ahern reminded me what was missing.
All the pleasant, rational arguments in the world won’t move people to act. Because we make the decision to act based on emotion, not logic. “This would be a good idea” will never beat “House on fire! Get water, NOW!”
So what’s your organization’s dragon?
Is it real?
If all you have to offer donors is a toy dragon, keep thinking.
“Help us meet our annual fund goals” is not a dragon. It’s a little plastic salamander. It might bother someone if they trip on it. But it’s no reason to drop everything and get out the checkbook.
This is when believing in your organization’s mission can help. For some organizations, the fight is easy to identify. Hunger. Homelessness. Illness.
But what if you’re not feeding hungry people? What if you work for a theater, as I did for years? No one will die without theater, right? Maybe not physically. But think about a world without art. Without the kind of new thoughts and feelings it gives you. Without the sense of community being part of an audience builds.
Consider: what happens if your organization disappears?
If your cause is worth working for, it’s worth fighting for.
But is it urgent?
It’s hard to ignore a house-sized, fire-breathing reptile staring you in the eye. If that happens, you need a solution, stat.
But what if the problem you solve isn’t as obvious? What if you’re dealing with a long-time, intractable problem? One you can’t promise to solve today?
Set shorter deadlines in that timeline. Create steps along the way. “If we don’t do X now, we’ll never reach Y.” Or “we will reach Y and then it may be too late”.
Climate scientists have been warning about the effect of carbon on our planet for years – decades, even. But it’s only now, as the crisis gets harder to ignore, that more people are noticing.
It was an urgent problem a long time ago. And if that is your mission, you could have truthfully been shouting for action then. But you could also have tried focusing on one climate problem at a time. (Because your ask must be matched with action you can demonstrate. You’ll be thanking and reporting back to your donors, right?)
The money you need should always be attached to some tangible mission. Your budget, your internal goals… they’re not motivating outside the organization. Think like a donor: what will the money buy? Why is it needed now?
Is it big enough?
This can be the hardest problem. Do you feel like your organization solves only a small problem? Maybe you need to expand your vision. If you think of the work your organization does and are tempted to insert “just” into a description… like, “well, we just collect food for pets”, think again. (Or find a new job!)
If you want people to commit their resources to your cause, you need a big, banner-waving cause to join.
And chances are, if you’re struggling to think big, you’d benefit from thinking small.
Goliath needs a David or there’s no story. If your dragon is just wandering around the countryside, bothering no one, who cares?
Instead of a nation-breaking problem, think about the effect of the problem on a single person. Dig deep into that person’s story.
We’re far more likely to react to one person than to large numbers of people. So maybe the problem your organization solves isn’t on a planetary scale. But for that one person, it’s the whole world.
Tom reminded me that what I was searching for – what I was missing – was the fight. And that if you downplay that, your readers will be missing something, too.
Don’t ask people to rouse themselves for minor problems.
Claire Axelrad says
Love this article Mary. You nailed this one! In fact, I was speaking with a client this morning about this very issue. The answer I got when I asked: “What would happen if you were to cease to exist?” sounded like your plastic salamander. Actually, it was worse. It was just a small piece of rather unrecognizable, indiscernible plastic. I couldn’t really wrap my head, let alone my heart, around it.
There are SO many problems. And SO many charities. What is it about your problem that’s relevant right now? And what is it about the way you address that problem that makes it the very best solution out there?