Context is Everything


Context is everything in fundraising. 

A conversation with a long-time major donor whose child was impacted by your organization’s work is different than a conversation with a potential major donor you’re meeting for the first time.

We all intuitively get this.  And we modify our writing / behavior / messaging accordingly.

But when creating mass donor fundraising, nonprofits raise a lot less money because they forget this lesson in all sorts of little ways.

Take a look at these two examples.

  • Some organizations call the people they help “our clients.”  That’s defining the helped people based on the organization’s relationship with them. 
  • Saying “Will you support our work?” make sense (and feels powerful) from an organization’s point of view.  But it’s defining the work based on the organization’s relationship to it.

The first rule of persuasion is, “You cannot take a person where you want them to go until you first meet them where they are.”

So you want to start with the donor’s context – you want to meet the donor where the donor is.

So instead of saying, “our clients,” you might say, “people suffering from PTSD who need counselling.”  By naming what it is you’re helping with – rather than using the internal shorthand of “our clients” – you’ve “met the donor where they are.”

Instead of asking donors to support your work, ask them to “help a person suffering from PTSD.”  Asking donors to “right wrongs” or “fight injustices” will always be more effective than asking them to support your organization.

Here’s another example from a piece of fundraising I saw the other day.  The organization said this:

  • Please help stop human trafficking, your gift will support our organization’s work.

But don’t you think they would raise more money (and stop more trafficking) if they said this?

  • Please help stop human trafficking, your gift will help keep a young girl safe.

To a donor, it’s more important to “keep a girl safe” than it is to “support an organization.”

The Key Realization

It’s powerful to realize that most donors care more about the issue you’re working on than they care about your organization.

Why?  It helps you remember that even though your donors serve your organization through their giving, you’re also serving donors by giving them an opportunity to do something about a cause they care about.

And when you remember that you’re serving donors, you’re more likely to go to their context – to “meet them where they’re at.”

When you use a context that makes more sense to donors, you serve donors more effectively and, as a result, you raise more money.