If there is one question that many nonprofits, especially smaller, younger and generally underfunded organizations forget to answer, it’s this simple question: What makes your organization great?
It amazes me how many nonprofits skip right over a value proposition that explains why someone should give them any money. If you want to get people to share your vision of the future, you must effectively answer these three questions:
- What do you do?
- Why is it important?
- What impact do you deliver to the community?
Answering those three questions won’t guarantee you success, but they sure do help. There is often an aura of mystique surrounding fundraising, but when you boil it down, it’s fundamentally relationship sales and marketing. Your goal is to get people with the capacity to give to emotionally connect with your vision and then participate in your mission at greater and greater levels. To maximize success, it is critical to take a systemic approach to fundraising through strategies that properly position you in the community, reflect the importance of your mission and demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.
If there is one magic bullet for fundraising success, it boils down to this simple thing that my good friend and mentor, Dick Zellner, told me to remember.
“Donors want to be investors in a well-managed organization with an exciting plan for the future.”
Address this premise effectively, and you connect donors to your cause. It is important to identify what creates enthusiasm for your mission and what engages and bonds each individual donor to something they find exciting. But it is also of critical importance to demonstrate that your work is effective, it supports your Theory of Change, it makes a difference to your community and a donor’s hard-earned money is well spent.
Therefore, it’s this simple statement that should form the basis of all your fundraising communications and relationship-building activities. Understanding what’s in it for donors and what excites them is a cornerstone to success. When donors look to fund an organization, they not only look for success and positive impact, they also want to know what makes you special, because they often identify emotionally with discrete program variations. Therefore, your best bet for improving your brand is to celebrate these differences. Most importantly, when there is a clear delineation between your organization and others, there exists a greater opportunity for collaboration, which collectively reduces competition between those very organizations.
Relationships Fuel Fundraising: What’s in It for Me?
In developing and building your relationships with donors, it is important to look at each donor as an individual and be able to answer the question: What’s in it for me? Correspondingly, another “Zellnerism” I’d like to share is that organizations don’t have needs, but people do, especially those with whom you’re trying to engage as donors. Understanding individual donor needs is a critical step that works to connect, engage and create ownership of your mission by donors at all levels. Fulfill each donor’s needs first, and you gain valuable allies in achieving your mission.
Positioning Describes How You Stack Up to the Competition
While the notion of competition is often a bit foreign in the nonprofit world, I’d like to assert that competition is good for the community. Positioning defines how and where you fit in with regard to your work and mission and is a way to illustrate how you differentiate yourself from all the others that work with your constituents. It forces you to seriously consider the how of what you do and compare and contrast it with others in your field.