Yesterday’s Successes, Today’s Truths, Tomorrow’s Hopeful Futures

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

I just noticed that almost all of the fundraising our team helped create last year can be divided into three groups:

  • Yesterday’s Success.  These are stories of people who have already been helped, and of things the organization has already accomplished. 
  • Today’s Uncomfortable Truth.  These are stories of what’s happening today, right now, that causes the work of the organization to be needed.
  • Tomorrow’s Hopeful Future.  These are stories of what will happen if a donor gives a gift.  For instance, “If you give a gift today, 1 square meter of wetland will be preserved from development” is a story about the positive future that will be created if a donor gives a gift.

Organizational insiders tend to think that sharing Yesterday’s Successes will motivate donors to give today.  And it will, to a limited extent.

But consistently telling donors about things that happened yesterday means you’re not telling donors what’s happening today.  And in our experience, the best way to motivate donors to give today is to talk about what’s happening today

The fundraising programs that we see succeed wildly are programs that intentionally share what happened yesterday, and what’s happening today, and what could happen tomorrow with the donor’s support.

When you give your donors the full picture, they’re more likely to give you their full support.

Messaging Mishaps

What not to do.

There’s a difference between the messages most organizations want to send, and the messages that make donors want to give.

This is a Big Idea for organizations who want to grow their fundraising programs. Let me explain…

Most organizations have a way they like to talk about their organization and their work. They create this “way of talking about the organization” by having staff and core stakeholders come together and talk about why they think the organization is so effective and why its work is meaningful. And they talk about why they think people should give gifts.

Those ideas come together to form an organization’s messaging. And in some cases, those ideas are codified into a brand.

There are two important things to note here, and I believe they are the cause of most of the ineffective fundraising that’s out in the world.

First, note that the organization likes this messaging. Remember, the messaging is made up of the reasons staff and stakeholders think the organization is effective & meaningful. The “reasons for support” are the reasons those staff and stakeholders believe are the most important. The organization is sharing the reasons the staff and stakeholders think the donor should give a gift.

Second, most individual donors are markedly different from staff and stakeholders. The vast majority of individual donors – especially if an organization wants to scale past a few hundred donors – know less and care about different things than staff and stakeholders do.

Here’s a thought exercise for you…

If an organization sends out fundraising with messages that would motivate staff and stakeholders to give… but the people who receive the messages know less and care about different things than the staff and stakeholders… how well do you think the fundraising is going to work?

Not very.

The Leap

What happens for organizations that make “the leap” to the next level of fundraising success is that they start making their fundraising more other-centered.

The organization sets aside what staff and stakeholders like about their organization. They set aside why staff and stakeholders think people should support them.

The organization then does the hard work to figure out what donors tend to support. The organization does the hard work to figure out the messaging that causes regular people to respond.

So, are your appeals sending the messages your organization likes sharing? Or, are you sending or the messages that you’ve figured out are more likely to get a response? Because the messages an organization wants to send aren’t likely to be the messages that are most effective at causing individual donors to give.


If you’d like help creating and sending fundraising messages so that your organization makes “the leap” to your next level, get in touch. We stop taking new customers around the end of October because there’s so much to do for year-end, so if you’re interested, I’d encourage you to fill out this form for a free conversation.

Don’t Limit Your Donors

Don't limit your donors.

Thought you’d like to see some advice that Jonathan Steck shared recently around the ol’ Better Fundraising water cooler. 

We serve a bunch of organizations who – perhaps like people at your organization – are worried about the increased amount of fundraising they plan to send out during the last few weeks of the year.

Jonathan is our Creative Director, and he sent the following email to our team:

Hey gang,

We’re getting a handful of clients lately who are pushing back on the amount of fundraising content we’re recommending be sent at this time of year. 

This is not unusual. 

I mentioned this in our traffic meeting yesterday, but one of the better responses you can provide clients who are concerned with volume at year-end is this:

We shouldn’t decide when the donor gives, or how they should spend their money.  Let the donor make that decision.  

The moment we (as fundraisers) stop sending appeals, we immediately limit a donor’s opportunity to give.  Organizations think they are being considerate of their donors, but they’re really robbing them of the chance to make a difference in the world.  

So, if the objection comes up, just encourage your clients not to cancel their year-end content.  Let the donor make the decision to give or not.  

Happy fundraising! 

I love this.  It treats donors like adults.

Don’t let fear set your boundaries for how much fundraising you do in the next few weeks.  (Or ever, for that matter!)

Quick Example

And here’s a quick example for you.  Jonathan and I just got out of a meeting with a nonprofit who followed our advice.  They just completed a campaign where they sent 18 emails in 18 days. 

They are thrilled with how much money they raised.  They raised 60% more than they did last year.  And they didn’t see any of the negative consequences that some of their staff feared: no mass amounts of unsubscribes, no angry calls from major donors. 

Just money coming in, day after day for 18 days.  Money they can use to do more of their mission.

Our Job as Fundraisers

Our job as Fundraisers is to be “sold out” for our beneficiaries or cause – and NOT to limit how much or how often a donor can give.

If you’re thinking it won’t work for your donors, or that your donors are special for some reason, read this.

This year-end, use optimism as a tool

And as Jonathan says, Happy Fundraising!

You Change the World

Change the world.

A bit of encouragement for you today…

Do you want to change the world?

A direct response Fundraiser can change the world just by sending out an email.

By doing something almost everybody does – sending an email, of all things – a Fundraiser can change the world by raising money.

A donor’s money that was going to do something is now doing your thing. Your organization is now going to do more. And your donor loved giving the gift.

Email sent. World changed.

Food for thought: how many people do you think have the skill to send emails – to people they’ve never even met – and have some of those people reply with large amounts of money?

Not very many.

Develop your skills to raise money, in email or direct mail or telemarketing or radio, and you can have a meaningful job for the rest of your life.

People and organizations will value your ability to change the world. They will value your ability to take all the things your nonprofit does and create fundraising that makes your donor want to take action now.

Because while a lot of fundraising just makes a point, you’ll create fundraising that makes a difference.

That sounds like changing the world to me.

Four Ways to Get More from Your Capital Campaign

Get More Money

Many of our clients are already busy planning their next Capital Campaign.

And a common question they’re asking is this: how can they incentivize smaller corporate donors to make a donation to the cause?

Let me give you an example…

One organization I work with is wanting to build an Early Learning Center for underserved kids.  It will include a playground, activity rooms, classrooms, and a host of naming-rights opportunities.  But they’re rightly wanting to reserve these valuable naming opportunities for their mega donors.

So, what about smaller corporate donors?  What can motivate them to give during a capital campaign?

It’s our role as fundraisers simply to do our best job to sweeten the pot.

You see, smaller business owners usually have three pockets:

  • A personal pocket
  • A marketing and promotion pocket
  • A business and philanthropy pocket. 

Capital Campaign incentives for mega donors – like naming rights for a playground or classroom – target the third pocket. 

So, for smaller businesses, we need to focus on the second.  It’s all about how much promotion or recognition they can get for their donation.

As such, we’re forced to think outside the box to get sizeable donations from the marketing and promotion pocket.  Here are four simple ways you can incentivize smaller businesses to support your Capital Campaign:

  1. Provide the prospective business or corporation with an opportunity to display their name/logo on your website for a period of time
  2. Mention them in social media, give them shout-outs, tag them, and share their good work with your followers
  3. Add their name/logo to any email that you send to your community
  4. Include them in a press release to a local media partner, such as a radio station or newspaper

Of course, every campaign and every small business is different.  But I’ve found, more often than not, that finding unique and creative ways to recognize smaller businesses is a sure-fire way to involve them in your Capital Campaign.