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Joanne Oppelt

About Joanne

Successful Nonprofit Fundraising is NOT About the Money

Successful nonprofit fundraising is not about the money.

How can that be? Isn’t the whole objective of fundraising 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 your 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 ATMs offends them. ATMs 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 who 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 to focus on what the donor gets out of the relationship and making that experience as memorable and satisfying as possible. What of value are your donors 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 forty-eight 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 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 your donors. Please thank them. Thank them more often than you ask them for a donation. Ask them questions and listen to 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. Make the experience satisfying. Build a relationship that will last for years.

In the next installments I will talk about building donor relationships with individuals (Part 2), foundations (Part 3), corporations (Part 4), and government funders (Part 5). Then I'll bring it all together (Part 6).


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