Stop Trying to Teach Goldfish to Juggle
As far as we fundraisers are concerned, there are two kinds of people in the world: Donors and non-donors. These two groups are so different from each other that they might as well live in different worlds — which, in a way, they do.
I know it's oversimplifying to reduce the human race into just two groups. But it's useful to remember that not everyone is the same, and some people are predisposed to give while others are not. Keeping this in mind can help us think much more clearly about raising funds. It's easy to forget that we don't "raise" those funds at all. People give them to us. It's the donors — not us — who really make this whole thing work.
Of course, there are also people who are somewhere in between, who mix the characteristics of donors and non-donors. We'll get to them later, because they matter a lot.
Here are some thumbnail sketches of the most committed donors and the most confirmed non-donors.
Donors tend to believe that change is possible, that they can make the world a better place. In fact, they believe in their own responsibility to have a positive impact.
It's no surprise that they are very involved in the world in ways other than giving. They volunteer more often. Belong to civic, social or religious organizations. Give blood. They even commit small acts of kindness like giving up their seats on the bus to strangers significantly more often than non-donors.
The most important thing for us: Donors donate. They give regularly and to a variety of causes. They give because they want to, they know they should and because it feels good.
On the whole, donors welcome your fundraising. They see it as a chance to make a difference — to actualize who they are.
Non-donors are not so sure about working for a better world. They tend to believe the world is a mess that's getting worse all the time. This fatalistic attitude sometimes leads to a blame-the-victim mentality about human need: "Why should I help them? They'll just mess everything up and need help all over again."
Non-donors are less engaged in the world and their communities: far less likely to volunteer, belong to organizations, take part in events or interact positively with strangers.
Most of all, non-donors don't donate. Would you, if you saw the world the way they do?
They hate your fundraising. Because it is an indictment of the way they live. It forces them to come up with excuses for not giving — reasons they no doubt at least subconsciously recognize as bogus.
I realize I've made donors sound like idealized super-humans and non-donors sound like sorry, useless schlubs.
That's not my purpose. I've drawn the picture sharply to bring the difference into focus. Because when you understand this, it presents you with some good news, a danger to avoid and an opportunity to seize. Let's take a look at each of those …
The good news
Nearly everyone you communicate with when you raise funds is squarely in the donor category. These people donate!
They're always free to say no to any request, but they operate under this "deal": If you go to them with a compelling, meaningful and relevant reason to give, and if they agree with you, trust you and the time is right for them, they give. (Note all those ifs: Fundraising is still hard work!)
When you ask donors to give, you aren't barging into their world with an unwelcome proposition, like those guys who run up to your car at intersections, start washing your windows and expect payment. When you ask, you become part of the donor's world — a place where love, empathy and self-empowerment combine with generosity to make the world and the donor better.
I can't think of any other relationship in the wider marketing world where the "buyer" and the "seller" are so perfectly aligned or where so much good accrues to both sides.
This is utterly liberating. You don't have to tiptoe and apologize around donors. You can be bold and joyful, and that always leads to stronger fundraising.
If you fail to recognize the donor/non-donor divide, you can waste a shocking amount of time and money trying to bring non-donors along on a journey they just aren't interested in joining.
You'd be amazed how common this is. I think it's because many nonprofits and/or their fundraising programs are run or influenced by non-donors. These people don't grasp the psychology of donors, so fundraising that works is strange, even repellent, to them. "There's no way this syrupy, emotional garbage is getting it right," they say.
So they go through fantastic (and expensive) gyrations: They rebrand, giving their organization a more modern look and feel. They change the fundraising offer to something beautiful, aspirational — and abstract. They advertise in places they personally find interesting and exciting, like high-end magazines.
And none of it works. It can't, because they have the audience wrong. They might as well try to teach goldfish how to juggle as they try to coax non-donors into donating.
Non-donor fundraising produces record-breaking poor results. Jaw-droppers like 9 million impressions yielding one response. The kind of thing that stunts (or ends) careers.
This is where those in-between people come in — those who have some characteristics of donors but haven't yet crossed the divide. The beautiful thing is this: Non-donors can turn into donors. It happens all the time. And you can help it happen — to the long-term good of you and your new donors.
The most common way non-donors become donors is they mature into it. Somewhere between age 50 and 60, the magic happens, and they start new lives as donors.
Finding these people at the moment of transformation and being there to put their generosity to work can be your growth edge.
There are two main places and times to find them:
● Around major news events. Things that capture of lot of media attention so they're top-of-mind for nearly everyone for a while can unleash an enormous amount of giving from non-donors. Things like natural disasters or the untimely death of a celebrity.
Many of the donations that come during such times are one-time acts. But some are the first gifts of a new lifetime of giving from newly minted donors. That gift is the key that unlocks the new behavior.
Be nimble and ready when major news events that connect with your cause come up. That's how you motivate that first gift — and all the subsequent gifts from new donors.
● Proximity. The non-donors you're most likely to reach are those who are like your donors. They consume the same media as your donors. Buy similar products. Subscribe to the same publications. They even tend to live in the same ZIP codes.
Wherever you're finding donors now, that's where to look for non-donors who are ready for the change.
Study your donors. Know their demographics and psychographics. Those soon-to-be donors are there, not someplace else.
Knowing the differences between those who give, those likely to give and those who don't makes you a truly savvy and successful fundraiser.