I’ve been thinking a lot about fundraising lately. Mostly because I’m surrounded by it. Phone calls from the Fraternal Order of So-and-So … piles of mailing labels with hummingbirds and flowers … heart-wrenching images of abused animals in pop-up ads … and soon, girls standing outside grocery stores pushing cookies. You get the drift.
That’s a lot of competition for an ever-shrinking pool of dollars.
Of course, that sounds a lot like the business world these days too. So as a marketing guy, I’m always interested in seeing how organizations position themselves as worthwhile recipients. And some are much better than others.
Not that persuasiveness always matters. Like many families, we have a list of causes – education, environment, poverty, animal protection, etc. – that receive regular donations. We’ve researched these tried-and-true organizations and we know they are aligned with our values and interests, so we don’t shake up that list very often. But we also do some discretionary giving when we find a deserving target, and that’s where we are as susceptible to good fundraising strategies as anyone else.
What I have noticed – only speaking for myself here – is that the old “tug at the heartstrings” approach is becoming less effective. Not that I’m predisposed to melt at the sight of a fluffy little kitten anyway, but I’m increasingly pragmatic about what happens with my money when it becomes their money. After all, when times are tough we all take a closer look at our own bottom lines… why wouldn’t we do the same when it comes to the organizations we support?
After thinking about what pitches make me likely to reach for my wallet, I’ve realized a pattern. I tend to be more receptive to a funding request when I can answer “yes” to all of the following questions:
- Do I agree with their mission? Does it resonate with me somehow, whether it’s practical or emotional? Is it communicated well?
- Do I know what my money will do? Is there some sense of how my contribution helps the organization succeed? Am I funding a cause or a back office?
- Are they making a reasonable request? Is it easy for me to give, in terms of amounts, payment methods, and timeframes?
That’s it. That’s the trifecta. It doesn’t have to be some world-changing initiative. It doesn’t have to try to make me weep. It can be serious or kitschy or bizarre. Just as long as it does those three things.
Of course, not everyone does. For instance…
One out of three doesn’t cut the mustard for me. Take the National Mustard Museum (yes, it’s real, and yes, it needs money). I’m a big fan of mustard and think a museum is a great idea, mainly because I have a soft spot for trivia in all its wonderful forms. But they’re fairly vague on their website about where the money goes, and the minimum donation to the museum is $25… Nope.
Two out of three might get you a cookie. Like, say, the Girl Scouts. Do I agree with their mission? Absolutely. Do I know what my money will do? Not really, since the allocation of proceeds is apparently decided by local councils. Is the request reasonable? Those Thin Mints are pretty darn good, even at four bucks a pop. So yeah, I’ll buy a box or two.
The challenge is making it three out of three. Take a look at Lemonade: Detroit. They’re documenting the resurgence of a great American city, a mission I can certainly get behind. They are remarkably communicative when it comes to how funds get used. And a $1 minimum donation is about as reasonable as you can get, especially when that buys you a frame of the film and a producer credit on IMDB. Sign me up.
Now, I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with my criteria. But that’s not the point. The point is, there’s very little that distinguishes fundraising from regular old marketing. You have to understand your customers’ motivations and you have to “sell” them something they want, whether it’s a warm fuzzy feeling or a box of cookies or a frame of a movie.
It’s a good learning opportunity.
Marketers: you can learn a thing or two from fundraisers about selling intangibles. People buy what makes them feel good.
Fundraisers: you should take a lesson from marketers when it comes to managing customer relationships. Communication, transparency, innovation… these things get rewarded.
And everyone: next time you find a handful of change in your couch cushions or a buck in your back pocket — some money you didn’t miss when you didn’t have it — find a deserving cause and make someone’s day a little better.