The Most Dangerous Syndrome for Fundraisers


Here’s a great guest post from Jeff Brooks of Future Fundraising Now. And watch out for NPNGS in your fundraising!

Does your newsletter and/or website contain any of the following?

  • News about the accomplishments of your staff
  • Photos of well-heeled donors presenting giant checks to your organization.
  • Detailed history of your organization
  • Photos of people standing around (possibly holding wine glasses) at your fundraising event
  • Articles explaining how your programs and processes work
  • Manifestos about how your approach is superior to others’

If you answered yes to any of these, your organization might suffer from Nonprofit Navel-Gazing Syndrome, or NPNGS (pronounced “nippings”).

This condition can cause nonprofits to believe that if donors just understood them and grasped how awesome they really are – they’d give.

Unfortunately, that’s not how charitable giving works. Donors don’t give to keep you in operation. They give to make things happen. Fundraising that’s all about you is always less effective.

Donors don’t think like you. They’re less schooled in the fine points of what it takes to accomplish your mission. Their view of what you do is less nuanced than your view. They’re drawn to simplistic, even incomplete descriptions of your work – and the strongest philosophical argument can leave them cold.

Organizations with advanced NPNGS sometimes blame the fact that their self-focused fundraising doesn’t work on their donors. They see them as “deficient,” and sometimes go as far as trying to somehow find “better” donors who will appreciate them.

The sad truth is, they inevitably learn that few donors are willing to spend the time getting up to speed on them.

The cure for NPNGS is easy. It’s to embrace this truth: Donors are interested in you because of what you help them do. You are their agent in their mission to make the world better. That should be the topic of all your fundraising. Not the inner workings of your organization. Not the accomplishments of notable others. Not the need for raised consciousness or philosophical buy-in.

Your top-notch staff, your wonderful events, your well-honed methodology, your superior mindset – all these things are part of your uniqueness and your ability to accomplish your mission. But donors aren’t much interested in that. They just want to give to achieve clear results they can understand. Swallow your pride and meet donors where they are.

The Big Thank-You Mistake That Chases Away Donors


When I was a Cub Scout, proudly dressed in the blue uniform with the yellow scarf, I once helped an old lady cross the street.

It went like this: I sidled up to an elderly woman who was standing on a corner, waiting for the light to change.

“Can I help you across, ma’am?” I asked.

She looked me up and down. Suspiciously. “Yes you can, I’m sure,” she said. “And you may.”

Her jab at my word choice went over my head.

The light changed, and I hooked my arm around hers and started across. I concentrated on matching her speed, as I’d heard about another Scout who had moved too quickly and pulled his old lady off her feet; he ran off in a panic, leaving her on her hands and knees in the middle of the street.

We made it across fine. Both of us upright. We got to the other side, and I unhooked by arm from hers.

I waited for my much-deserved praise.

She said: “Thank you for your commitment to traffic safety.”

And walked away. Leaving me gaping and confused, silently vowing never to help weird old ladies across the street again.

Okay, I made up that last part about her strange form of thanking me. No human being would do that.

But nonprofit organizations do exactly that all the time!

It’s probably happened to you as a donor:

  • You donate to help hungry children in Haiti, and they thank you for doing your part to fight world poverty.
  • You donate to fight a terrible government policy you hate, and they thank you for protecting civil liberties.
  • You donate to save some beautiful animal from extinction, and they thank you for your commitment to habitat preservation.

I know why it happens. The organization thinks of its mission as fighting world poverty. But if they sent out fundraising with that as the offer, they’d have shut their doors years ago. So they raise funds with specific offers, like feeding hungry children in Haiti …

But when it comes time to thank donors, they forget — or more likely, they don’t really care. So they thank the donor for helping them accomplish their mission in the broad sense.

Which is basically rude. And not human.

Don’t be that organization. Thank your donors for doing the thing you asked them to do.

It would be perfectly fine if — once you’ve really piled on the gratitude for the thing their gift accomplished — to tell them their gift also helped do that bigger thing.

But don’t act like you live on a different planet by thanking them for something they likely have no sense that they did at all.

Thank your donors for doing the thing you asked them to do.

Then they’ll happily keep coming back to help you across the street, again and again!