Easier Said Than Done: Elements of a Great Fundraising Offer
When you raise funds, you're selling a "warm glow." Fulfillment of a religious or social obligation. A sense of significance. The most tangible thing you have to offer is a tax break, which most donors actually don't care about very much. To get right down to it, you're selling almost nothing.
You can accomplish this tall order by creating a powerful fundraising offer — a call to action that will make donors look beyond the intangibility of what they're buying and happily reach for their checkbooks anyway.
The best fundraising offers have these seven elements:
1. A problem
Something isn't right in the world. Something's missing. Somebody is hungry, sick or lost. A situation needs to change. Maybe it's more of an opportunity than a problem: Something great can happen if we take action.
You must use every creative and imaginative tool at your disposal to help donors see the problem as real, believable and threatening. It should seem big — but not so big that it looks hopeless. Most of all, the problem has to be straightforward and easy to visualize.
Many offers fall flat because fundraisers backpedal on this point. They downplay the problem, making it seem more like an unfortunate sociological phenomenon than a crisis that urgently needs to be fixed. Or they don't quite get around to saying what the problem actually is, counting on donors to read between the lines.
This part of the fundraising offer is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts and an unflinching, eyes-open approach to vividly portray a problem that will motivate donors to act. People on your team who are timid, paranoid or bureaucratic-minded will not like it!
2. A solution
Once you've made a compelling case that there's a problem, you face a second, similar challenge: selling the solution. That's tough because it has to be the donor's solution to the problem — not necessarily the organization's. That means maintaining a clear and obvious connection to the problem — not necessarily the complex, root-cause connection you worked hard to articulate as you trained your staff, or in the brand guidelines that you should recycle as soon as possible. Simplicity is everything.
If the problem is hunger, the solution should be food — even if your organizational goals center around economic empowerment, civil society, or anything similarly lofty and abstract. Remember, those things are effective at eliminating hunger because they result in food. Most donors aren't going to follow the winding trail that leads from civil society to a child rescued from death's grip. And why should they? Do you know how your cell phone works, or do you just want it to work?
The best offers connect the problem/solution to the donor's pocketbook. That plays out in three important ways:
● It's specific and tangible. That can be anything from a meal that costs $1.79 to specific research that can continue with a gift of $25. The more concrete cost almost always works better.
● It's the right size for the donor. If a donor has given you $25, asking for $1,000 is unlikely to work. So is asking a $1,000 donor to give $25.
● It's a good deal. Everyone loves a bargain. The best offers meet that need by giving donors "bang for the buck." (That exact phrase has been brought up by donors in virtually every nonprofit focus group I've observed.) Whatever the cost of the offer, it has to seem amazingly low for what it accomplishes.
Give your donor specific reasons not to delay her response. If a donor puts the decision aside for later, the chance of it happening drops dramatically. If you did a good job describing the problem (see element No. 1), you already have a lot of urgency. Make sure to complete that with things like:
● A meaningful deadline for response. Maybe a window of opportunity will close. Maybe the problem will get a lot worse. The more real, connected to the problem and nonarbitrary your deadline is, the better.
● A holiday or other seasonal reason to respond on time. Christmas gifts delivered in time for Christmas are much more motivating than ordinary gifts at any old time.
● Negative consequences of failure to act. If it's a matter of life or death, don't shy away from that. If it's something less than that, make it seem as dire as you can.
Hardly any of your donors are specialists in your mission. That's why a good fundraising offer doesn't require special knowledge to understand. You should be able to state the offer in one sentence. One sentence that avoids professional jargon. One sentence of regular, colloquial language that uses ordinary examples and everyday expressions. Don't get caught up in the methodology of your solution.
Donor context is likely to annoy the professionals, who will feel you're oversimplifying what they do. Listen to their complaints with sympathy — but don't change your offer so it makes them happy! That is just like burning revenue before it even arrives. Donors, not professionals, are your audience. Stay in their world.
6. Donor benefits
I know I said fundraising is selling nearly nothing. That's not strictly true. Giving has a ton of benefits for givers. Donors are well aware of most of these benefits, but it never hurts to remind them of the good things that will come back to them as a result of giving, such as:
● Giving will make it possible for us to continue to serve you or others like you.
● Giving will help make the world or our community a better place.
● Giving is obedient to your Scriptures. (Don't worry, it's obedient to all of them.)
● Giving will make you feel good.
● Giving is tax-deductible.
Here's the hardest part. You can have all your facts lined up like a well-disciplined army, but you'll hardly motivate anyone to give unless you connect at the heart level.
Like it or not, we human beings make virtually all our decisions with our emotions. Then we circle back with our rational minds to either justify or talk ourselves out of our emotional decisions. This is a biochemical fact. When you ignore it, your fundraising suffers.
If you're having trouble believing me, try this thought experiment: What would galvanize you to a quicker and stronger action — a toddler heading straight for a busy street or a whitepaper about the rate of childhood traffic injuries and fatalities?
The whitepaper is about a bigger problem than the single toddler, right? Shouldn't it stir you to move even more? Of course not. That's the power of emotion.
You can't educate a donor into giving. Having an airtight, rational case for your offer will get you nowhere until you can bring a tear to the donor's eye.
I realize these seven steps are a significant challenge. But when you successfully bring them together, you'll have a great fundraising offer.
Jeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle (merkleinc.com). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org