Effective Fundraising Feels Aggressive to Insiders

Effective Fundraising Feels Aggressive to Insiders

We’re doing a series of short posts called Mastermind Lessons.

The Fundraising Mastermind is transformational consulting for nonprofits that we do with Chris Davenport of Movie Mondays and The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

Here’s the first of the top-level lessons that every nonprofit needs to be reminded of, more often than they think.

To internal experts – that’s you, your programs staff, your leadership – effective fundraising appears overly aggressive and simplistic

That’s not the way it appears to donors. But it often appears that way to internal experts.

This is a constant theme for organizations at the Mastermind. They get pushback like this from their internal audiences (and sometimes wonder this themselves):

  • “This is too aggressive, we’ll offend people.”
  • “But I would never talk like this.”
  • “But this doesn’t mention X and Y and Z; donors need to know those things!”
  • “This isn’t the language we use. The correct term is [INSERT JARGON].

I even wrote this story because it’s such an incredible example.

So what’s the reason this happens to almost every organization? Despite, you know, 70 years of fundraising best-practices that simple, direct fundraising works better?

It’s because of a truth that most organizations don’t know about or can’t fully wrap their minds around…

You Are Not Your Donors

The phrase “You Are Not Your Donors” should be written – in 100pt Courier – on the main door into every fundraising department.

Then everyone going in that door, everyone who creates your organization’s fundraising, will remember that:

  • Your donors are different than staff
  • Your donors don’t know as much as staff knows
  • Your donors don’t want to know as much as staff knows
  • Your donors care about different things than staff cares about
  • Your donors think about your cause less than staff does
  • Your donors only interact with your fundraising for a few seconds – you don’t have time to be complex!

I say this all the time, but of course there are a couple of donors and a board member who know as much and care about the same things that your staff does. And that very small group of donors should be talked to differently than when you are talking to everybody.

But when you are talking to everybody – your appeals, your newsletters, your emails, your e-news – then the truths above apply.

And by the way, if you wrote “You Are Not Your Donors” on the fundraising department’s door, it would remind your staff that the fundraising you create has a specific worldview that is different from your staff’s worldview.

Because as Fundraisers, it’s part of our job to teach this truth to everyone in our organization.

This part of our job doesn’t get talked about much. But it’s valuable. Because the organizations that embrace this truth tend to raise more money and keep their donors for longer!


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

One comment on “Effective Fundraising Feels Aggressive to Insiders

  1. Steven, great post. To your list of the types of pushback from internal reviewers, I’d add this one: “It’s too dramatic.” It’s almost as if some nonprofits are reluctant to portray the very reality of the problem, say, hunger or homelessness – the reality that would move donors to give. Related: http://tinyurl.com/yyvq9mcs

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