There is a missing link, I think, in how many nonprofit fundraisers approach their work. And that missing link is effective messaging. Fundraising often uses the messaging of need. “We need $100 to provide our programs.” “We need $1,000 to meet our goals.” And many who counsel fundraisers continue to stress the messaging of need, for example Mal Warwick’s most recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Mal encourages fundraisers to strengthen their case for giving, but, for Mal, this case for giving is about the organization’s need: “be certain your donors understand both the more urgent need for your services during tough times and the many concrete steps you’re taking to increase your efficiency and effectiveness.”
That’s not how to raise money effectively. To raise significant money you need to focus on impact. The messaging of impact is very different from the messaging of organizational need. The messaging of need gets you donations. The messaging of impact gets you investments. And the two are very different:
- Focus on organizational needs
- Tend to be smaller in size and shorter in length
- Are a response to an apologetic ask (the “tin cup” mentality)
- Focus on the impact (the change in outcomes) that an organization makes in the community
- Tend to be larger and longer
- Are presented as an opportunity
To raise significant, sustainable revenue, nonprofits have to move towards developing investors. Here is how raising investments differs from raising donations:
A successful fundraiser looks for investors who share the organization’s values and theory of change, and then demonstrates to them how the nonprofit creates that change in the community. The organization is merely a conduit for investing in change in the community. For example, an afterschool program for at-risk children is translating dollars into positive outcomes for the children in their charge (increased student achievement, fewer high-school drop outs, lower crime rates, etc.). If the organization were to fundraise around the organization’s needs, “Help us reach our goal of raising $100,000 for our program,” they would raise far less than if they were to fundraise around impact, “Invest in our organization so that we can improve opportunities for children, which creates fewer burdens on our community, more contributing members, and a healthier overall community.” The first message is about strengthening an organization, the second message is about strengthening a community. Which is more compelling? Which would make someone give more and continue to give if the promised impact is actually delivered?
The recession is, no doubt, a difficult time to raise money. But within this structural constraint there lies an opportunity. By moving an organization’s messaging from need to impact, from donation to investment, there is the opportunity to raise much more money and in so doing, to deliver much more impact.