Watch Your Language! Fundraising Terms that Don’t Say What We Mean
September 7, 2016
Know Before You Go: The Power of Prospect Research
September 21, 2016

Keeping it Real: How to be Authentic in your Fundraising

We’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a fundraising “Bright Spot” lately thanks to the recent report by Kim Klein and Jeanne Bell.

One thing is clear: authenticity is central to a strong fundraising program. As Leslie said last week in her blog about fundraising language, it’s all about being real.

For me, fundraising authenticity is about the journey.

A nonprofit is not a static, perfect entity that deserves investment just because it exists. It’s an evolving story and donors deserve to know the whole narrative and how they fit into it.

Try this. Get face time with a donor or prospect. Then give it to them straight. 

Tell them where you’ve been, what you’re going through now, and where you’re headed.  Tell them what the destination looks like and how amazing it will be.  Then, tell them how they can be a part of getting there with you and how meaningful it will be for them and for you and for the people you both care about.

I know it sounds simple, but it’s rare that I come across a case statement or solicitation plan or a presentation that truly invites the prospect to join you.  We get awfully caught up in saying all the right things about our credibility and our track record and yes, we do need to have all that covered.

What I see so many organizations leaving out of their donor communications is a genuine, enthusiastic invitation to dream, to create, to travel…together.  We tend to say: here’s what we do, it’s important and good, please give us money.  And in my opinion, this just doesn’t cut it.

Start with the basics.

Share with your prospect the essence of your work: What are the values and assumptions that drive your activities?  What do you believe?  What do you know works?  Why did you choose this path instead of another?  The differences can be startling.

For example, if you’re working to reduce handgun violence, you might believe the best approach is to advocate for anti-gun legislation.  Or, you may believe the best approach is to educate parents on how to store guns safely in the home.  There’s a HUGE difference here, but both approaches can potentially lead to the same vision and you need to let your prospects know why you’re travelling the path you’ve chosen.

Then describe your funding needs in the context of where you’re trying to go.

Don’t start by telling a prospect you need more staff.  It’s like saying you need a car, when really you need to get to Abilene.  And a car is simply the thing that will get you there.  Explain instead that you need greater visibility, deeper reach, increased responsiveness, or whatever.  Then, explain that more staff, or equipment, or resources, will help you do this.

Authentic fundraising is about sitting down with your donors, looking them in the eye and inviting them on the trip of a lifetime.  It’s about being real.

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