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Financing Not Fundraising: Moving From Push to Pull

By Nell Edgington

In part 10 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, we are discussing moving nonprofits away from “push” fundraising and marketing efforts that force their message on innocent bystanders (like acquisition direct mail appeals) and towards “pull” activities that allow interested prospects to opt in to the organization (like social media, friend-raising events, partnerships). In times of increasing competition for supporters, nonprofits can no longer engage in ineffective, non-strategic efforts to get people in the door. Rather, nonprofits must attract people through engaging content, events and activities that encourage people to raise their hand and become part of the organization.

If you are new to this ongoing series, our Financing Not Fundraising blog series demonstrates that fundraising holds the nonprofit sector back by keeping nonprofits in the starvation cycle of trying to do more and more with less and less. To overcome this, nonprofits have to break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities.  Instead, they must create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.

First, let’s define Push versus Pull marketing activities:

  • Push efforts are traditional marketing activities where you create marketing or fundraising “messages” and distribute them through various channels and hope that someone sees them and responds to your call to action. Some examples of Push efforts are: direct mail letters to prospective donors, a brochure-like web site where you talk about your work and hope people hit the “donate” button, ads or articles in the local newspaper.
  • Pull efforts are when you engage and build relationships outside the organization, join communities and give people reasons to voluntarily draw your organization into their personal experiences. You’re not interrupting them, you’re not controlling the message or the channel. People are getting to know you, liking what they see and opting in to getting to know you and your organization better.

“Push” efforts are controlling and controlled, time and resource-intensive and yield low returns (direct mailings that get a 2% response rate are considered successful). “Pull” efforts are open and inviting and yield much better and longer-term donors because these efforts allow prospects to self-identify.

Key to the whole idea of Pull activities is that you want to find prospective donors who share your values as an organization and believe in the change you are trying to create. So many nonprofit organizations think that they need to mass market their organization. To the contrary, your message will not resonate with the general public. You need to find prospects whose values intersect with a community need that your organization is uniquely positioned (because of your core competencies) to solve, like this:


Pull marketing makes your job easier because you no longer have to look for a needle in a haystack, but rather you simply must be yourself, demonstrate your values and your work and join communities where like-minded people hang out. Introduce yourself and start building relationships. Social media is a fabulous and inexpensive tool for doing just this. And Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s book The Networked Nonprofit is an excellent primer on how nonprofits can and should completely rethink how they operate in the community.

So how does Pull vs Push marketing look in a nonprofit’s annual revenue plan:

  • Instead of pushing your fundraising appeals out to mass audiences through direct mail campaigns sent to people who have never demonstrated an interest in your nonprofit, start a blog that engages people who share an interest in your work to read, comment and become part of a community engaged in social change.
  • Instead of sending out invitations for a big gala to a bunch of people who are more interested in the food and entertainment than your work, start holding smaller, more intimate, mission-focused occasions for current supporters to bring friends to learn about the organization, volunteer and get involved.
  • Instead of just posting static articles about your nonprofit on your Facebook page, start asking questions and initiating conversations with your fans. Start getting to know them and start encouraging them to drive content, suggest activities, lead efforts.
  • Instead of putting up walls and engaging and collaborating only with a small group of advisors and partners, open your organization up to vast networks, partners, supporters and others who share your values and your work. Constantly seek out opportunities to find new friends and organizations in high and low places.
  • Instead of focusing only on what supporters can do for you, get to know them and figure out what you can offer them (opportunities to change the word, meet like-minded friends, engage in a broader community).
  • Instead of asking supporters simply to give money and volunteer, encourage and empower them to lead their networks of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors to get engaged with your organization as well. Make it easy and attractive for them to do that by asking them what they need, giving it to them, and then getting out of their way.

Pull activities require a complete shift in mindset. The messages and activities are not up to you anymore. You can’t control the outcome. Rather be yourself, build relationships, join communities and engage people in compelling, inspiring and interesting ways. Pretty soon you’ll have more friends and supporters than you know what to do with.

If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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11 Comments to Financing Not Fundraising: Moving From Push to Pull

Lisa Allison
August 25, 2011

Excellent! The shift from begging to selling, from push to pull. It’s an “investment” on everyone’s part.

Antoinette Ford
August 26, 2011

We are small, young and very innovative. We celebrate the lives of veterans and the senior members of our society through reminiscence theater….collecting their stories and producing theater, music, publications…all true stories. Funding? I didn’t use your term Pull strategy….but that is exactly what we do. I’d like to hear from you to learn more about what you are doing with an emphasis on small nonprofits.

Nell Edgington
August 26, 2011

Thanks Lisa!

Nell Edgington
August 26, 2011


Thanks for your comments. Your organization sounds very interesting.

Social Velocity works with nonprofit organizations, particularly small and medium-sized ones, when they are at an inflection point (they want to grow their services and outcomes, they need to revamp their funding model, they need to rethink leadership, they need to raise money to build their organization, etc). We serve as a strategic partner with the organization to guide them through that change, by creating a strategic plan, a growth plan, a revenue plan, a funder pitch for capacity capital, etc.

You might be interested in our case study blog series that profiles in detail our work with a small nonprofit: You can also take a look at our consulting services here: and read other client case studies here:

If you are interested in learning more, please email ( or call me (512)694-7235 and we can set up a time to talk further. Thanks!

Jennifer Darrouzet
August 26, 2011

I was fortunate to see Nell present this approach at an AFP meeting, & really liked it. See her speak if you can!

Also, I just attended a good free for-profit training (@MarketingSherpa) that used a similar 3-circle diagram, only the circles were “Appeal” (meaning what’s in it for the potential buyer), “Exclusivity” (meaning what makes this product/service different from the competition), and “Credibility” (meaning you’ve proven you’re a trustworthy provider). I see parallels like Appeal = Donor’s value, Exclusivity = Core competence (hopefully you don’t do exactly what another org does nearby) and Credibility should come from data proving Community Need (and your ability to show community impact).

Keep up the great work, Nell!

Nell Edgington
August 26, 2011

Thanks Jennifer! Yes, that sounds like a very similar approach, and savvy for-profit companies are moving quickly to the pull approach to marketing as well. It just makes so much sense.

Antoinette Ford
August 26, 2011

Being new to your posts, this is a great introduction. Thanks, Jennifer, for your insights as well. I am going to look forward to connecting with your readers, Nell. And I look forward to scheduling time to talk with you. Check out our website, Blog and Facebook too.

August 27, 2011

its great to have this great and brilliant information,i would love to learn more coz am in the same situation,though ma approach is pull coz i do much of community participation local and internationally

October 26, 2011

Hi Nell. New to your forum. Am just making it through your 11-step program for the first time.

I’m having a problem seeing past “what is” to get to the heart of what you’re recommending. It’s probably because current methods are so ingrained in me. But I want to understand this as I’m trying to introduce a whole new direction to my old (100 years) sedentary industry.

All that you write is typical “fundraising” methodology in the animal shelter industry. Special events, mailers, website and Facebook page appeals, etc. dominate our methods.

I’m having trouble grasping how to implement your “pull” philosophy. It sounds very nebulous, as if we’re not actually asking for money. Sort of a toss info out, ask them to get interested/involved and “hope” they do – and also bring their friends! It seems to leave the notion of contributing $$$ up to them.

Can you help crystallize this for me? Thanks much, Nell. 🙂

Nell Edgington
October 26, 2011

Thomas, the idea is to tear down the walls that many nonprofits exist behind and create an interactive community where people out in the community voluntarily raise their hand and want to be part of making your cause a reality. They get so excited about what you are doing that they want to get their friends, family, colleagues involved and invested. You are no longer just looking for them to write a check, but you are looking for them to pour their energy, enthusiasm, networks, etc into your organization. A fabulous book on the topic of becoming a nonprofit that is engaging the community more effectively is Beth Kanter’s Networked Nonprofit. I suggest it as a great place to start. Ultimately what I am talking about is a completely different mindset, that instead of sitting back and pushing information about your organization out to the broader world, you are completely integrating your organization into the community and in the process creating an army of supporters (volunteers, donors, advocates, friends) who will help you achieve your mission.

[…] by using their time and resources to create a solid annual individual donor campaign based on pull marketing efforts for smaller donors and one-on-one cultivation of larger major […]

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