Weeds In The Garden (Or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love off-target fundraising”)

Weeds In The Garden (Or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love off-target fundraising”)

Almost no piece of fundraising anyone sends out is ever perfect.

As a Fundraiser, you have to get used to having a few “weeds in your garden.”

Weeds In The Garden

That’s what we call them around here. The little things that creep into fundraising because you’re in a hurry. Or because your approval process is a committee. Or because your ED loves a certain phrase.

They happen to me. They happen to you. They happen to everyone.

But they are just weeds. They don’t destroy the beauty of a garden. You have to pay attention to them, of course. But they are just weeds.

Here are a couple quick examples:

  • The on-point email with the prominent link to an Instagram feed that has no posts that have anything to do with what the email is about.
  • The brochure or letter with the first sentence that states the year the organization was founded. (Really? We only have people’s attention for a few seconds and how long we’ve been incorporated is the first thing we’re going to share?)
  • The letter that’s written in clear, easy-to-read prose with the exception of the one sentence that’s 109 words long with 4 clauses that no one besides the writer’s mom will read.

Here’s the Big Idea I want to share…

Weeds Do Not Doom Fundraising!

I’m writing you today to let you know not to stress too much about weeds.

If you’re writing to your donors about something they care about, a couple of weeds don’t make a measurable difference.

If most of your letter is easy to read, don’t worry about the long paragraph put in there by a Program person.

If your event is mostly about the problem you’re trying to solve, and how the donor’s gift tonight will solve it, you’re fine if some Board Member with 5 minutes to talk drones on for 10 minutes about their childhood.

If you get the main stuff right, you’ll do fine. Do the best you can at having a strong offer. Get to the point quickly. Be repetitive.

But know that donors are overwhelmingly generous. Know that they LOVE giving gifts to your organization.

Want to know why?

Because It’s About HER Garden, Not Yours

Why don’t donors care much about weeds in the fundraising materials you and I make?

Because our donors don’t care that much about OUR gardens. They care about THEIR OWN gardens.

If we write to her about what she cares about, she’ll read our emails and letters. She’ll come to our events. Because every gift she gives you is a rose in her garden. It’s something she’ll celebrate. And every time she hears from you with news about something they helped accomplish, she’ll feel better about your organization and about herself.

This, by the way, is why so many donors still respond to off-target, overly-educated, organizational-centric fundraising. They see through all the poor writing and jargon to the thing they care about. The generosity of donors never ceases to amaze me.

Ultimately, it’s ok that all of us Fundraisers have weeds in our gardens. Because our donors know that life is messy. It’s imperfect.

But if we consistently write to our donors about what our donors care about, weeds don’t matter. They’ll keep us around. Because our fundraising success is much less about how we present what we do, and much more about how good we are at helping donors see that a gift helps her do what she wants to do.


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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