6 Steps for Connecting Donors to What is Possible

Last week I received a note that became the post Joan is Going Nowhere. In that post, Joan described her frustration with her ED’s mandate that fundraising focus on the donor vs. the needs of the population her organization serves.

I am grateful for the great wisdom you all shared with Joan – being gone for much of the week, it felt great to have such good minds to counsel Joan in her work.  Thank you all for making this a great community of support!

As I thought about the root of Joan’s concerns and considered the thoughtful responses you all provided to her, it became clear that what Joan was seeing as an “either/or” did not have to be so. I hope the following 6 Steps begin to show that there are ways to accomplish both – aligning the donor’s desires with more Community-Driven end results.

1) Get Beyond Needs
That means getting beyond the needs of your organization, the needs of the population you serve AND the needs of your donors. Instead, focus on what your organization aspires to accomplish on behalf of the community – the vision for what success would look like.

For example, if you work with a homeless population, what might community-wide success look like? If your organization were 100% successful, what would the community look like?

2) Be Positive
Make sure you are expressing that vision in a positive way, not a negative way. Rather than “ending homelessness” (to continue the example), perhaps your vision is a community where everyone has a home. Or perhaps it is bigger than that – a community where everyone’s basic needs are met. Whatever it is, make it positive.

3) Communicate with Donors about that Vision for Success
Ask THEM what they think is possible. Ask them about their own dreams for what your organization’s “community potential” might be. Take the blinders off, asking, “If money were no object, what might be possible?” See if you can engage them in what is possible for your community.

4) Understand Each Individual Donor
Every individual has a different sense of what is really possible, and you will therefore want to be sensitive to meet folks where they are. There are some who have been frustrated by the incremental approaches many organizations have taken to date, wishing they would work on more visionary systems-changing approaches. Others, however, shun talking about such things, believing it is not possible to create a future that is much different from our past – but still believing that more could be done. Regardless of the visionary extent of their answer, engage them in their own sense of what they DO think is possible.

5) Show Them the Dots – Then Connect Those Dots
Now you can begin to work with the donor to both create the dots and connect the dots. Work with them to envision what the path might be to creating the future that both they AND your organization want. Help them connect those dots, and help them find their place in supporting that work.

6) Make Friends, Not Just Money
The biggest mistake we make with donors is to fail to invite their full friendship. Once they have donated money, that is where the relationship typically stays. We don’t ask them for their connections, their ideas, their experience, their wisdom. We certainly don’t ask them to volunteer, as if asking them to volunteer might somehow offend them.  And that is the worst mistake we can make – failing to turn donors into true friends.

I hope this helps bring those two issues together for you, Joan. Being “donor-centric” doesn’t have to mean pandering or saying whatever will get the gift. It can mean just the opposite – elevating the discussion to both the donor’s AND the organization’s highest dreams for what you can accomplish together – for the people you serve, and for your community.

And when that happens, the fun has just begun!

For +100 strategies for turning donors into friends, check out FriendRaising: Community Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising but Love Making Friends.

3 thoughts on “6 Steps for Connecting Donors to What is Possible”

  1. Hildy, what a great summary of all the thoughtful comments posted last week. I’m definitely learning that fundraising can be incredibly meaningful and bigger than simply massaging the donors’ soft spots. You all showed me I was taking a very black/white approach to my job.

    Working at a social service agency, I especially appreciated #2–we can inspire our donors through a vision of what our community can be rather than exploiting the neediness of those we serve.

    Thanks to you and all your readers for getting me to rethink my narrow position on fundraising.

  2. Joan:
    This is perhaps the nicest comment I have ever received here – to know that all of us together have helped you see this in a more affirming way. You have made my whole week, and it’s only Monday! Thank you for letting us know that this has made a difference for you!

  3. Thankyou for such an inspiring post Hildy

    I too had lots of problems to raise funds for Pledging for Change Community Interest Company as we initially wanted to serve our members and become a grant giving organization. The donations were just not coming in at all.
    I had to put my thinking cap on..hmmm

    A friend mentioned that even tho a very few people will give because they “like to feel good” every single one of them will be thinking what is in this for me?

    At first I found it all quite a worry but it was on with the show, and I created a paid advertising directory. Guess what… just a very tiny trickle. Not even enough to pay the overheads.

    Over a short period of time many non-profits and sustainable business on the network were mailing me out of desperation to help them sell things or raise funds. I don’t know if you can imagine how I was feeling when I couldn’t even raise funds myself or SELL advertising.I found myself getting exhaused trying my best to help them by promoting them in every way that I could. And you can still guess what…still no donations and no advertising.

    Things have moved on a lot since then and we now have a “Share Program” in place where everybody benefits dependent on their own efforts. (I won’t add the link as I feel it a little rude on blog replies) It’s a simple principle of “Giving and Receiving”. There are very substantial rewards but it all depends on the time each individual or organization can give initially to make it a success as well as the number of people who “INVEST” £££$$$$. Another principle “You can only help those who are willing to help themselves”

    We all look forward to sharing our first success story so much and the community is now well loved and frequented by members eager to participate in a win-win situation.

    I just need a few tweeks now to be sure I have it all in place in an “affirming way” as your post discusses.

    Thankyou once again for inspiring me.



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