The Evolution of the Ask

Evolution of ask.

I want you to identify which part of the circle your organization is currently in.

And before I go too far, let me just say that the graphic above doesn’t apply to every organization. Nor is it exactly right.

But it’s still true.

At their founding, organizations tend to have remarkably simple and powerful asks / calls to action.

These are phrases like:

  • Help save the grizzlies!
  • Will you give so that the Opera can put on the next performance?
  • Will you help the Quilting Museum keep the doors open?

Simple. Clear. Powerful.

It works so great that the founder’s idea, plus their passion, raise enough funding to become an organization. That’s an incredible transformation!

And then, as organizations get bigger, they move around the circle to the right. Their fundraising and the team creating it gets more complex. Their ask evolves.

It’s a well-worn path.

Internal forces cause the asks above to evolve into less effective asks like:

  • Our work in the local ecosystem with multiple bear species is such a success, will you join us?
  • Will you support the light, drama and majesty of this art form we call “Opera”?
  • Please join the beautiful patchwork of the human quilt!

Let’s be clear: these things happen for good reasons with good intent. Creative and passionate people, with little-to-no training in direct response fundraising because our industry doesn’t do a great job of that, do the best they can.

And it works. The team works hard. Donors are generous and support the things they love. The organization raises money.

But in the context of direct response fundraising (your appeals, e-appeals, newsletters, etc.) it doesn’t work as well as the simple, clear, powerful approach.

This graphic exists so that your organization can skip a few steps on the journey back to simple, clear, powerful fundraising that works like crazy.

So, go back to the graphic and locate your organization again. Think about where you currently are, and what steps you can skip. If you can skip a step or three, you’ll rapidly increase your organization’s fundraising capacity!

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!