Sunday, December 30, 2007

New column every Monday: "The Fundraising Guru"--December 31, 2007

Think like a donor, or sink as a fundraiser
By Stephen L. Goldstein

A Native American proverb advises the wise, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Modified for fundraisers, that empathic advice should read: “Never ask for money until you put yourself in the place of potential contributors.” That sounds simple. You probably think you’re already doing it. You’re probably not, though—at least as well as you could/should.
For one thing, thinking like a donor doesn’t mean your putting together a tacky tactical thumbnail on your prey—who’s a golfer, who does watercolors—so you can pepper your approach with bon mots to hook them. It means treading lightly, caring about people, showing real sensitivity to them as individuals.
In addition, strategically, the best fundraisers know that they have to think like informed donors to make their cash register ring. So, put yourself in the mind of potential contributors before you try to empty their pockets.
For example, ask yourself, “How would I expect fundraisers to behave if they approached me for a donation?” Answer that simple question, and you’ll be amazed at how effective your fundraising strategy will become—almost automatically. So, here are some ways you can answer your question that will point you in your most successful direction.
1. I’d expect people soliciting me for a contribution to prove that they and their organization are legitimate, impeccable, respected. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even talk to them. Everyone knows the mantra that “people give to people.” But the full sentence should be “People give to people they know and trust.” Thinking like a donor, you’ll never make a cold phone call or send a letter out-of-the-blue. You’ll find people who know your prospective donor to break the ice.
2. I’d find out how the organization asking for a donation values its contributors. I’d care about how they treat donors—all donors--after they’ve made their gift. An average donation may be such a significant stretch for a small donor that, relatively speaking, it represents a bigger commitment than a million-dollar contribution from a tycoon. Does the nonprofit value people as people, or is it just take-the-money-and-run?
3. I’d expect to see a doable proposal. I wouldn’t give fundraisers a cent unless they presented me with a detailed description of a worthwhile project that makes financial sense, seems like a unique solution to an important social issue or a rare opportunity to make a positive difference. That goes for any donation, large or small. I’d expect fundraisers to realize that I see my donation as an investment, not as a handout.
4. I’d want to see a report, showing the positive results my contribution helped to produce. I’d want proof that my money was used as I specified—and that it accomplished the intended result or, if it didn’t, what went wrong. I’d want an assurance upfront that I’d get a meaningful report. (That doesn’t mean an expensive, full-color piece of nonprofit propaganda, however. That kind of waste would make me never want to contribute again.)
How would you advise people to think like a donor so they don’t sink as a fundraiser? Send your questions and comments to Stephen L. Goldstein at He is the author of the nationwide bestseller, 30 Days to Successful Fundraising and hosts “Fundraising Success” on 90.7, WXEL/National Public Radio, Sundays 7 to 8 p.m., available from anywhere in the world, 24/7 at