What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?

Man pushing back.

There are people at your organization who will not like a good fundraising offer (even though a good offer will raise your more money).

Let’s talk about why – and what to do about it.

‘That’s not the whole picture’

A good offer presents only a part of what your organization does. It purposefully does not present the whole picture.

This will feel “wrong” or “not true” to internal experts.

But a better word would be “incomplete.” And remember, we’re being incomplete on purpose.

So here’s what I say to internal experts all the time:

“You know more than our donors do. You understand the depth and breadth of what we do and why we do it. But donors don’t understand the whole picture. And they shouldn’t need to in order to donate! When we only have a few moments of a donor’s attention – in the mail or email or a brochure – we don’t have time to give them the whole picture. And organizations like this one have found that they raise more money when they talk about just one compelling part of what they do. Fundraising done that way feels incomplete to experts like you. But to most donors it feels just right.”

‘But if our donors knew more about what we do, they would give more’

There’s a common feeling at nonprofits (you’ve probably heard it said around your office) that, “If our donors knew more about what we do, they would give more!”

In some cases that’s true, like at an event where you have a donor’s attention for a longer period of time. But it’s basically never true in direct mail, email, or in social media.

In your mail and email, if you try to tell donors “more about what you do,” you’ll raise less money. Trust me, I’ve tried. A lot. And failed. A lot.

And here’s what I say to internal folks who believe this myth:

“I know it feels to you like ‘if our donors knew more about what we do, they would give more.’ That can be true in cases where we have a lot of time with donors. But in the case of mail and email, donors are deciding what to read, delete and recycle really fast. We find that telling donors a lot about one thing your organization does works better than telling them about all the things that your organization does.”

‘This is Too Emotional’

As we’ve talked about, a good fundraising offer is best delivered with a lot of emotion. And because a good offer keeps things simple, you have more time/space in your letter or email to talk about emotions.

Internal audiences often find this approach “too emotional.” They also often say that they don’t want to “emotionally manipulate donors.”

Two rejoinders for you.

First, the emotion is not manipulating anybody. It feels overly emotional to internal experts because they are experts! Experts are professionals. They know their stuff. They have removed most of the emotion. They think in terms of inputs and outputs, systems and outcomes.

But your donors are not experts. And for the VAST majority of donors, giving is an emotional experience.

For those donors, hearing an organization talk about what it does (in the way an expert would talk about it) feels dry, full of jargon, and a bit like a lecture.

And I’m here to tell you that, in test after test after test, “dry, full of jargon and a bit like a lecture” does not work very well in the mail or email.

Second, if brain science has taught us anything about giving in the last 70 years, it’s that people give for emotional reasons. Sure, foundations give for more rational reasons. And some major donors give for rational reasons.

But the vast majority of donors, the vast majority of the time, are giving because their emotions have been touched. So you want to include emotions. You’ll be more effective when you do.

The best recent example of donors giving “irrationally” is Notre Dame. Repairing a centuries-old building seems to pale in comparison to curing cancer, right? (For more on this, read Jeff Brooks’ blog post, or this tweet from Angela Cluff.)

So here’s what I say to internal people who think a certain type of fundraising is too emotional:

“You know everything we do and why we do it. You’re an expert. But our donors aren’t experts. They think about our cause / beneficiaries because their emotions have been touched at some point, not because they’re experts in our field. So if we tap into their emotions – which are the reasons they became our donors in the first place – we have a better chance of getting a gift. What may seem overly emotional to you doesn’t feel that way to a donor. To a donor, it reminds them why they care. And that’s why they donated before, and will donate again.”

‘But we need to tell donors how effective we are!’

The final piece of pushback we receive goes something like this, “But we need to tell donors how effective we are!”

No, you don’t.

I’ve created thousands of very effective fundraising offers that never mention whether the organization is effective or not.

And when a mailing or email spends much time talking about how effective an organization is, that mailing or email tends to raise less money.

Why? Because your organization’s efficacy is not one of the main reasons people give in response to letters or emails.

Here’s a simple way to put it: your organization’s efficacy matters, but it’s something like the 7th most important thing that matters. And you’ll raise more money if you make sure you do a great job talking about thing #1, and thing #2, etc. Then – if you have time/space left – mention how effective you are.

Just know that it’s not the most important thing to donors, and treat it accordingly.

Here’s what I say to internal people who want to include an organization’s effectiveness:

“Your effectiveness makes you great at what you do, and sharing it with foundations, government organizations and certain major donors is exactly what you should do. But in a letter or an email, most donors are taking just a few seconds to decide whether they care about what we’re doing. That’s the big hurdle we’re trying to jump. So we spend our time talking to them about what they care about, not about how effective we are.”

Good Luck!

I hope these ideas will be helpful as you respond to people at your organization who don’t prefer fundraising that uses an offer.

It’s a rare person who can immediately change their mind, so you should expect resistance to this new way of communicating to your donors.

All of these ideas are meant to help people who are experts in your field realize that there are people who are experts in fundraising. It’s a profession that’s done countless tests to determine what works best in the mail and in email.

These ideas are meant to help people who are experts realize that they are different from their donors. And that’s the first (and possibly biggest) step to unleashing your organization’s fundraising potential!

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers