Despite the fact that donors are fundamentally driven by the opportunity to make a difference, I often see organizations falling into what I call the “process trap”: a belief that donors want to and must understand everything about how an organization does its work in order to achieve the promised results.
We often think that our process is what makes us unique and valuable, and as such, telling our donors about it will set us apart from other organizations, and convince donors to give to us. We may even think that donors SHOULD know about our process, so that they can feel confident that our programs will achieve the results that we promise.
And sometimes, we are just so caught up with the “how” of what we do, since we live and breathe process all day every day. It can be easy to forget this isn’t necessarily the primary focus for everyone else. The most effective fundraising requires a different approach and the emphasis on different information.
Some aspects about how an organization carries out its work can be relevant and helpful to donors. However, this information must never distract from where the power in our message as fundraisers really lies, which is in the extraordinary achievements of the organizations we represent.
What it means to get your fundraising communications wrong
You might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal? How on earth can it be harmful to tell our donors about the ins and outs of our daily operations?”
Here’s why it’s important to strike the right balance on this front:
- Successful fundraising is based on powerful storytelling that not only highlights the need that you seek to address, but also the impact that donors themselves can have in addressing that need. Delving too deeply into the “how” of your organization’s programs and services risks drowning out the key messages that will actually persuade your donors to give!
- To be blunt, too much information about process and daily operations will just not be that interesting to prospective donors. You could very easily end up boring them – not a successful strategy for donor engagement!
- Depending on the nature of your work, you also run the risk of lapsing into technical jargon that is not accessible to a broad, general audience. That, in turn, could alienate prospective donors by confusing them.
So where do you draw the line?
The amount of detail to provide about how your organization does its work depends on the answer to one key question: will it help the donor to better appreciate the nature and magnitude of their impact on the community you support? If so, it could help you craft a persuasive ask. If not, then it likely won’t help your case, and will probably distract from it!
Here’s an example:
Suppose you are a fundraiser with an organization that is launching an adult literacy program in your city. The program will recruit volunteers to work directly with adults who need support to improve basic literacy skills. How much do your donors really need to know about how the program itself will run? NOTHING – unless these details will convince donors that their contribution will translate to a true, lasting impact. For example:
- The minutiae of your recruitment and training of volunteers will likely not be of much interest to donors. However, can you demonstrate that the training is being directed by a leading expert in the field of adult literacy? Will you be recruiting volunteers who have strong experience and training in this area of work, or maybe even benefitted from the program themselves? These details DO matter. They will give donors confidence that your program will be effective in achieving its goals.
- You might think that prospective donors will want to understand exactly how you will teach new skills to your learners – but if you delve too deeply into technical and theoretical details about teaching technique, you risk alienating donors who don’t have the necessary expertise, professional background or patience to understand it. However, if specific elements of your program will enhance your learners’ success, then including them can be persuasive.
- How and where you procure the educational tools, resources and physical space necessary to run the program would probably not be compelling details for donors. But if, for example, you are running the program in local libraries so that they are easily accessible, or in donated space (so more cost effective), this could demonstrate to donors that not only are you doing everything you can to reach as many people in need as possible, but that every dollar they give will stretch that much further and amplify their impact.
But what if a donor actually wants to know?
Organizations are often afraid they will inadvertently leave out a crucial piece of the puzzle if they do not spell out every aspect of their operations and process for donors. This leads them to want to provide more information, in advance, in an effort to address every question a donor might have. As a result, the information that is really important to your donor (how you have an impact) gets lost in the detail.
In reality, your initial fundraising materials, including your Case for Support, should be focused upon persuading donors that they want to either get involved now, or to become intrigued enough to want to know more and ask questions.
The key to success in this approach, however, is to make it really easy for donors to get in touch, either to donate or to find out more (which, incidentally, provides a reason for furthering the conversation, therefore deepening the relationship). You do this by making sure that contact details are available, and that you are available when they get in touch. I have heard countless stories from donors who, when they want to talk about giving to a charity, they just can’t get hold of the right people, so they give up.
So take a look at your fundraising materials, particularly those that are intended for first-time donor engagement. Whether you are writing a Case for Support, determining how to write a fundraising letter, or looking at the improving the fundraising content on your website, check to see if you are falling into the process trap, or if you really are highlighting your impact as well as you could. Then look at your processes around how easy it is for donors to get in touch, or to donate, and see if they need some changes. By ensuring that you have the right content, and communications, in place, your fundraising is sure to thrive!
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