Successful Nonprofit Fundraising: It's Not About the Money

"How can that be?” you say. Isn’t the whole objective of fundraising is to raise money?

Yes, you are raising money. But money is not the goal. Fulfilling mission is the goal. Money is just the vehicle you are using. Money is converted to resources that lead to life-changing impact. Successful fundraising focuses not on getting the money, but on how donors participate in and experience being a part of making positive impact happen. And feel good, memorable experiences don’t happen through the act writing a check.  They happen in the context of satisfying relationships.

The crux of successful fundraising is not going after money. The crux of successful fundraising is forming and strengthening relationships between the donor and you, your organization and your clients. And creating all the word relationship implies - mutual value, trust and respect. Where you both get something you value.

You Get More than Money Out of Effective Fundraising Relationships

So what do you get of value? What you get of immediate value is easy. You get money. You get to meet financial goals. You get to keep agency afloat. And that’s usually the mindset of board members, executive directors, financial officers and operation managers. You may have that same mindset. After all, if the service system breaks down or can’t be paid for, people suffer.   

And that is where most nonprofits make their biggest fundraising mistake. Because asking the donor for money is asking the donor to pay an agency bill. When was the past time paying a bill excited you? Well, it doesn’t excite the donor either. Even worse, treating donors like MAC machines offends them. MAC machines are objects. Donors are people.

Put yourself in the shoes of a bill payer. What kind of relationship do you have with your energy supplier? Pretty much none, yes? My guess is you do nothing but pay bills and call them when you experience a problem. In fact, you might even complain about their rates, service and billing practices. Is that the kind of relationship you want your donor to have with you?

There are things other than money that nonprofits want from donors. For example, nonprofits want donors to say good things about them. They need advocates for their cause. How often do you sing your energy supplier’s praises? How often do you advocate on behalf of their mission? How often do you even think about your energy supplier except when paying them or when something goes wrong? You don’t. Is this the kind of mindset you want your donors to have about you and your organization? Or would you rather have donors that are willing to give, excited about your mission, say wonderful things about you and advocate on issues that affect your operations?

Then don’t ask for money. Ask them to make a significant impact within the context of a satisfying relationship.

What Donors Get Out of Effective Fundraising Relationships

The key to getting financial gifts is by focusing on what the donor gets out of the relationship and making that experience as memorable and satisfying as possible. What of value is the donor getting? Do they feel acknowledged? Do they feel respected? Do they feel appreciated? Are they making an impact?

The value for donors is positive impact in their communities. The key is impact. The key to reaching donors is focusing on their desires to make significant differences in whatever community issues are important to them. The focus is on fulfillment of mission. Mission, not money, motivates. And this is true of whatever kind of donor you’re going after: individual, foundation or corporate. 

You want to make the experience of donating satisfying and memorable. You do this by acknowledging the other person. Most notably by listening. Are you asking them questions? Asking them about their needs and opinions and preferences and wants? Are you really listening to their responses? Actively listening, not forming a response. Do you feed back what you’ve heard so they know they are understood?

You also need to validate your donors. You need to let them know that they have value to you, your organization and your clients. Saying thank you within 48 hours is a must for starters. You also need to report back how the donation was used. How often do you communicate with donors other than asking for money?

And when you report back, remember they are not interested in how you’re their donation affected your organization. Your board members and executive director are very concerned about that, but your donors are not. You donors are interested in community impact. Communicate different outcomes to your donors versus what you communicate to your board, executive director, finance officer or program managers.

And respect and appreciate you donors. Please thank them. Thank them more often than you ask them for a donation. Ask them questions and listen their answers. Let them tell you their needs, desires, preferences and wants. Let them tell you what impact they want to make.  Let them guide you in how they want to give. Let them know they made a difference and report back to them. Make the experience satisfying. Build a relationship that will last for years.

Focus on developing relationships and you will raise far more money than asking people to write a check. The process of relationship building yields far better results than anything else you can do. 

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