Defying Logic




Is there anything logical about giving away your money? In western culture, we make most of our personal spending decisions with our emotions, not with our logic.  Think about it for a moment: your outfit makes you feel confident, that artwork reminds you of a special feeling, that’s a car you’d be proud to be seen in, you want a home that feels safe, spacious and attractive. Most of these examples started in the feelings area of your brain. This goes to show that the “why” is the most powerful motivator.

Fundraising with Your Why, and Not the What

Why is it that fundraising often seems to get hung up on facts, figures and outcome metrics?  We focus on the “what,” spending hours writing a case for support and describing the detailed budget of our projects and our organization’s history. Of course, the “what” is still important, as anyone who’s read through a slick automaker’s brochure can see. But have you noticed that the vehicle specifications and warranty info is on the back of the brochures? They purposefully place it right after the glossy photos of a happy driver enjoying the stylish lines and caressing corinthian leather seats as he or she invites the beautiful family into the luxurious, new-car smelling interior.

We need those specs, just like we need the mission-driven facts, figures and outcome measures to justify to the logical side of our brain – and maybe our board or spouse – that we’re giving away our money for smart reasons. But only after we already made the decision, deep inside our emotional brain, to make that gift. Yet, fundraising appeals often fail to start with the heart – both our own and our donors’.

The Tissues Before the Facts

Last week, a new volunteer fundraiser asked me for help with development “techniques and strategies”. Like most who are just starting out, she was understandably nervous about raising money on the board of the nonprofit organization she’d just joined. So, after promising to talk later about technique and strategy, I asked her first why she chose to serve on this board, how she feels about the organization’s mission, and to paint me a mental picture of who they’re serving and why it’s important. After a few minutes of listening to her powerful stories of personal experience and witnessing her passion for providing essential help to kids entering the foster care system, I was ready to write her a check – and, she hadn’t even asked!

One of best lessons I learned in 17 years of fundraising is the response of the donor will usually be in direct proportion to the enthusiasm and sincerity of the asker. I’ve seen it happen time and again, the most stoic CEO or board member wiping away a tear after connecting to a powerful social-need story. So, have the facts ready for the follow up, but bring the tissues too. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to share powerful stories and your personal passion for the mission you’re powering.

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