The Power of a Belief


Here’s a quick story about how an organization’s beliefs about donors unknowingly drove their fundraising strategy…

We serve an organization that has a large number of monthly donors. 

I asked them if they had ever asked their monthly donors to give a little more each month.  “No,” came the answer, “we’ve never done that.”

I suggested we run a short campaign to their monthly donors asking them if they’d like to upgrade their giving.  It’s my belief that almost every organization has a lot of donors that are willing and able to give more.

But some folks around the table were nervous – they had a different belief.  They agreed that some small number of their monthly donors would and could give more.  But they believed that a greater number of their monthly donors would complain or completely cancel. 

In other words, they believed that their monthly donors (as a group) were giving as much as they were willing and/or able to give. 

I shared a couple of stories of campaigns like this I’d successfully run in the past.  And we decided to go ahead with the campaign.

The results were spectacular.  A thrilling number of monthly donors chose to give more each month.  Plus, those donors increased their monthly gift by even more than we thought they would.

As far as I know, there were zero cancellations.

And the impact?  The organization started raising an additional $60,000 every single month.

Lesson #1

An organization’s beliefs about donors drive its strategy, its annual plan, and even its copywriting. 

If you believe your donors are willing and able to give more, you do things like ask monthly donors if they would give a little more each month.  You send more appeals and e-appeals, and you ask major donors to give larger amounts. 

If you believe your donors are willing and able to give more, you write things like, “Will you please send in a gift today” instead of the equivocating, “Will you please consider sending in a gift today?”

Should you be smart about which donors you include when you do this?  Of course.  If you have a monthly donor who has told you that she’s on a fixed income and can’t give any more each month, don’t ask her to upgrade.  If you have major donor who has told you that they aren’t going to give any more this year, then don’t ask them.

Your organization has a set of beliefs about donors, and fundraising, and money.  Often those beliefs are unstated.  But they are driving your strategy, your annual plan, and even your copywriting.

Do you believe that your donors are willing and able to give more?

Lesson #2

There are real costs to believing your donors can’t or won’t give any more.

The organization above could have been raising that additional $60,000 every month the previous year.  And the year before that.  Think of the impact that was missed!

My goal in pointing this out is not to make all of us (myself included) feel bad for all the opportunities we’ve missed over the years.

My goal in pointing this out is for all of us to realize that our beliefs about donors and fundraising have real-world consequences. 

In my experience, believing that “many of our donors are willing and able to give more” will have positive real-world consequences.  Believing that “our donors are giving as much as they are willing and able” will have negative real-world consequences.

Try It On

So here’s what I want you to do.  I want you, just for a moment, to “try on” the belief that your donors are willing and able to give more.  Name one thing you would do differently.

Now, make a plan to do that thing.  Your organization (and the additional people you’ll help) will be thankful that you did.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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