The Work of Your Organization vs. The Need for Your Organization’s Work

Mission impact.

Last week I wrote about how “generating attention” should be a bigger part of the nonprofit fundraising toolkit.

This is a quick post about how there’s a big difference between creating attention for the work of your organization versus the need for your organization’s work.

If you’re trying to get the attention of people who have expertise in what you do – think Foundations who focus on your cause, government agencies, partner organizations, and major donors who understand why your work is unique – then I would point people’s attention towards the work of your organization

Those people are already planning on giving gifts / working with organizations like yours.  They actively want to know how effective your programs are, why your work is unique and powerful, and hear stories about people you’ve already helped. 

However, if you’re trying to get the attention of people who do not have expertise in what you do – think “the general public” or your individual donors – then I would point people’s attention to the need for your organization’s work

Those people are not currently planning to give gifts to your organization.  People are not interested in how effective your programs are until they know there’s a need for your programs. 

So draw attention to the need for your work.  Once they understand and feel the need, then they’ll be more interested in learning how their gift (and your programs) will help meet that need. 

As you work to make an impact and get attention this year, know which kind of people you’re trying to get the attention of, and what you should be pointing their attention towards. 

“Trust, then give” or “Give, then trust”?


You know me – I’m always talking about how the “stories an organization tells itself” about fundraising have a lot to do with an organization’s success or failure.

There’s another “story” we should talk about. It’s specifically around acquiring new donors:

“We need a person to know and trust our organization before they will give a gift.”

This is true when organizations are just getting started – maybe up to a couple of hundred donors. And occasionally in the major donor context.

But the problem with that approach is that it doesn’t scale. There aren’t very many people, in the grand scheme of things, that want to take the time to get to know and learn about your organization.

So it turns out that if you want to acquire significantly more donors than you’re acquiring now, it’s a better use of time and money to learn to be effective at “just asking potential donors to give a gift” than it is to “get to know people and then asking them to give a gift.”

Important note: I should mention that this post isn’t just me philosophizing over here. It’s me attempting to summarize what I (and others) have learned watching organizations spend millions of dollars attempting to acquire new donors.

So for smaller organizations who want to acquire more new donors, ask yourself if you have the belief mentioned at the top of this post. If you do, I suggest you replace that “default” belief with this new belief:

At this moment, potential individual donors care more about our cause, and about their ability to make a difference with a gift, than they care about our organization.

So our fundraising materials should spend less time talking about our organization, and more time talking about a) the cause or issue we work on, and b) how a donor’s gift will make a difference.

If you follow this advice when creating your mass, outbound fundraising communications and marketing, you’ll acquire more new donors.

Should you think differently when having lunch with a potential major donor who was introduced to you by your Board Chair? Of course. That’s because you’re a savvy Fundraiser and you differentiate.

If you and your organizations can do the other-centered thing and focus your communications on what individual donors tend to be most interested in (instead of what you and your co-experts are most interested in), you’ll be rewarded with more donors.

And they will come to trust your organization over time.

To scale your organization, it’s not “build trust and then they’ll give.” It’s “get them to give, and then they’ll trust.”