Nonprofit fundraising is facing some unique pressures. These pressures include economic ups and downs, millennials jumping into the giving mix, and more and more funders, donors, and contributors demanding proof that the good intent of mission translates to a tangible impact in the world. Pressures like these present a prime opportunity to refocus our fundraising approach on core principles. To refocus our approach on core principles, we must build a foundation of solid fundraising best practices and focus on doing those best practices exceptionally well.

The “Donors are Customers” Premise

I believe that donors are customers of your organization. This isn’t a radical concept but it may not “sit well” with some. However, the premise that donors are customers offers some interesting insights into how we think about and approach our fundraising efforts.

Donors, even ones that give in non-monetary ways, are contributing something to your organization in exchange for the “good feeling” they get by donating or the “social equity” your organization provides the community. They are “buying-into” the outcomes of your organization. They are customers because there is an exchange between the donor and your organization. In the exchange, the customer (i.e. the donor) is looking for something of value, expects service, and is interested in how the exchange benefits them. Thus, if we accept that donors are customers, the following three principles are the best practices that directly influence fundraising success.

1. Offer a Valuable Product

First and foremost, your organization needs to offer the market a valuable product. The market is comprised of all donors who are willing, able, and looking to donate to causes. Therefore, your goal is to lure them your direction and retain them with an incredibly powerful value proposition. Offering a valuable product differentiates you from other organizations. The term “product” means the outcomes and impact you are having on the lives of others and or the world. Your mission is a purpose, and by achieving this purpose, you create tangible impact that is valuable to society. A donor is interested in how their contribution, whether it is time, money, influence, or knowledge, makes an impact. Each donor will evaluate the value of an organization’s product differently. Some may use emotional, societal, financial, or logical (among others) justifications to determine which organization’s products they find most valuable. However, in the end a donor contributes to your organization because they believe that the exchange of “good feeling” or “social equity” you provide through your mission outcomes is greater than their contribution to your organization.  This occurs when your organization offers a valuable product.

2. Provide Great Service

I don’t know many people who don’t like or are indifferent toward great service. Personally, I enjoy great service. In fact, in certain circumstances I will choose to patronize certain companies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations based on the quality of service they provide. Donors are no different. They expect great donor service. Providing great service is about building relationships with, showing respect toward, and being responsive to donors. Making the donor experience enjoyable and easy for donors can be the reason someone gives to your organization. In addition, it may also be the reason they stay with your organization and or upgrade their giving level in the future. Great service is a product of being responsive, attentive, accurate, timely, courteous, and gracious to your customers (i.e. donors), while providing them an experience that is memorable, valuable, and enjoyable.

3. Build a Donor Focused Approach

While this is a key component to providing great service to donors, it is also a much bigger topic. In addition to donor service, building a donor focused approach is also about messaging and marketing. Donors need, and in some cases want to know “what’s in it for them.” Why does their contribution to your organization matter to them? You know why it matters to you and your organization. It may mean a new building, or payroll next month, or financial security for the next two years. Those are all important to you and your organization, but it is more important to describe why the contribution to the organization impacts the donor. This puts the donor first and makes the contribution process about them. For example, when you go to buy a new car, do you want to hear why your purchase of a car will improve the dealerships bottom line, or help them move inventory off the lot, or how the commission will help the salesman buy a new big screen TV? Most likely these reasons won’t get you any closer to purchasing the car. However, if the salesman explains how you will feel when you drive the car, how it will keep you and your family safe, and how the increased gas mileage will help you save money every year, you are more likely to listen and eventually purchase. Donors are no different. They need to know why their contribution affects them. Make the fundraising experience about the donor.

When pressures build and the hurdles get higher, I recommend a refocus on basic core principles. Make fundraising simple. This makes fundraising strategies and theories easier to understand and implement. The core of good fundraising is offering a valuable product, providing great service, and building a donor focused approach. Attaching these three principles to any fundraising appeal, any strategy, or any tactic can take your fundraising efforts to new heights.

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