The Fundraising Mindset

About 15 years ago I wrote an article about fundraising for non-profits, many of those things are still true today than it was then.  Since then, I have written about fundraising in a declining marketplace, as well as membership issues that cover a wide variety of territory.  Both of those articles, long since buried at the bottom of my desk are no longer around, but the importance of them are everlasting.

But that was 15 years ago – so what about now?  I found that many charged with the leadership in the boards have taken a for-profit mentality, and let go of the not-for-profit service.  What do I mean by this?   Selling product, not highlighting what they can do for the community at large.   This failure starts to begin to erode public confidence to a point where fundraising is a larger challenge.

I can categorically say – fundraising solely from within an organization is the beginning death spiral.  As you try to make operating costs, without having a plan or specific goals, turns into other fundraising schemes and eventually bankruptcy talks.    I have seen it too many times, and there are a hundred billion sheets of well written studies that show it’s a bad idea.  I can tell by how a company handles themselves in their Form 900 how long it will take them to go bankrupt.

I have had people bang on my doors, call me, and attempt to use high pressure marketing to get me to buy into how great they are.   One of the first things I wrote about was that the wrong mindset for your non-profit is “We’re great, give us money!” 

That is the first road to take if you want to go out of business.   The second one is even more distinct, “With the purchase of this candy bar……”  you know where I am going with that. It does not matter I it’s a candy bar, coupon card, baked goods, you simply forget one thing.  You don’t excite your base when you do the same thing everyone else is doing.

Then came the forever attempt to market to millennials.  Millennials crave purpose and are eager to see how they fit into the world and their organizations as a whole.  “Need to know” information and opaque processes don’t fit into such a worldview. As a generation that has had constant access to information from an early age thanks to the Internet, millennials love to know what’s coming up next and why.  They also watch your organization and if there are any issues that arise, they will not contribute, nor volunteer to help you with your goals.

The right mindset utilizes messaging outside of the organization that empowers those corporations by saying “You are doing a great job with supporting us – how can we help you?”   However, many organizations still think that private recognition in a social world is a method to gain continued support.   That is still yesterday’s thought process that nets lower donations.

“But we don’t want to post up that they are supporting us because that would be an endorsement of their product (or service).”  My suggestion to your organization is very non-PC.   Knock it off. Get over it.  Because you publically recognize a donor for their generosity from a corporation does not make even an implied endorsement of their product or service.   This is a what-if thinking model that non-attorneys come up with in non-law school.  You are saying you would rather go out of business than make public mention of your donor.  That is an infantile response.

Heck – if Public Broadcasting was terrified of that, they would never put on their programs “This show is supported by contributions from……… and from generous supporters like you.”

These points show that there is an endemic problem in fundraising.  The mindset.  Look at any random fundraising message and it’s all about “Award Winning”, “Proven”, “Superior Program”, “Leaving a legacy”, “Ensuring the future” and “cutting edge” each organization promotes themselves.  Face the facts, your donors know that only a small percentage of the work you do goes to the people you proclaim it goes to.  That is why they look at your books each year, and give to non-profits like Kids In Need Foundation who give 99.40 percent to the actual kids in need via products, services, food or health care.

The Board of Directors of organizations, not knowing what is actually happening with the feet on the ground and the continuing wars that society is throwing at them, sit in the board meetings and nod in acceptance to any positive sounding idea that is presented proven or not. When negative news floods in or bad news regarding decisions they make, there is a collective group-think whine of “Well that didn’t work, what’s next?” versus “Where is the supporting documentation that shows WHY this did not work?”   Each board member collectively agrees “If people only knew how great our work was, we would have more donations.”  

You have an organizational problem that requires the opposite thinking.

Many of the people who are donating on a regular basis don’t know what you are doing.  They don’t show up to your organization meetings or to your sites and watch the positivity that happen every day.  They are trusting that you are doing what you say, and when news stories pop up of financial fraud or other legal issues – they start to question their donation.   Your job is to address those things with your donors to continue their support.   Without that hands on discussion with them it leads to them thinking that they are nothing more than a coin operated egg spitting machine where a few words are put in, and a golden egg spits out.

What do you change your thinking to?  A simple answer:  “If our organization only knew how great our donors are, we would be killing the fundraising.”

I have heard time again that “We can’t go to them – we don’t have an in….”   That is a lie you tell yourselves because you don’t want to spend the time where it matters.   With your donors.  Your thinking needs to be positive toward your donors, and they become infected.  If you show up with an empty cup to their front door and give them the Eeyore treatment, you leave with an empty cup.

The National Auctioneers Association shows up to St. Jude with Toys and has a toy auction every single year.  It is the highlight of many of the kids’ lives.   St. Jude puts the NAA logo on their informational, and NAA puts St. Jude’s logo on their advertisements as a proud supporter. The infection spreads as auctions have been for St. Jude, and it continues to be infectious because people believe in it, and St. Jude believes in the donors.

You as an organization has to understand the simple pieces of where donors give – what is their personal mission?   What causes do they care about?  Where do they put their money?  When should they give?  Where do they place their passion?

How can you get support for matching funds?  Is it asking a corporate matches or going to foundations that have a mission that walks hand-in-hand with your organization that they can match up to a certain amount.  How does their passion fit your vision?

Are you asking for donations around the holidays?  A definite bad time to ask is November to February.  And what about tax implications?  Have you made it clear about your donations and where they go?  Don’t have them go to a tax attorney to figure it out.  Do your due diligence and give them the notice.

Last – don’t forget one thing.  Your donors don’t want you to show up at their door.  If they want to, and what social media is pushing for – is for them to come to you.   Nothing will take the place of a visit and seeing what goes on it your environment.   Don’t try to stage it for them, your donors are too smart to know when you are staging an act.  They will know and use that information to go into the decision-making process next year.

“Nonprofits need to develop the ability to know whether they’re making a difference. They need to know how to invest time and resources wisely so that they can do better over time. A lot of nonprofits dismiss the importance of impact measurement, or if they don’t know, they don’t know how to go about it,” states donorbox.org. 

When you are scrambling around to find appropriate paperwork to prove something, you are more after the faux metrics versus the impact you make.  Your donors will know – they always do – they never ask you a question.

Make your donors invaluable – not you or your program.