What People Hear, What People Experience

When fundraising, ensure people hear what you are intending to say. Frequently what is said is heard differently than what the speaker intended. Since the lives of your clients are dependent on donor generosity, ensuring that donors hear your message is very important.

Donor engagement depends heavily on the donor’s experience. Ideally, that experience includes hands-on volunteering in a way that brings the donor in close contact with the internal workings of your nonprofit, including client contact. There is nothing like first-hand experience to vivify the wonderful things your nonprofit does, the impact your mission has on your clients’ lives, and how important your nonprofit is to your community. However, you must first create a compelling case for why volunteering is valuable for the volunteer and why their volunteer activity will be valuable for the clients.

The most important part of your message is the ‘why’. Start by telling your donors why your mission is necessary. The explanation should be a simple sentence that inspires support. For example, “Our mission is to ensure that in our community every child’s education enables them to live their potential.” While some want that more than others, it is something that everyone wants and can easily envision. What people envision may be different but at least you have them ready to listen for more of the story. If their priorities are significantly different from yours or their vision is significantly different, it is best to thank them for their time and let them pursue opportunities that are closer to their hearts.

Now is the time to tell them who you serve, what services you provide that will make the vision real, and where it all happens. Again, they may feel others need it more, that different services might be more effective, or a different place might be better. If you feel your nonprofit’s plans and their wishes have the opportunity to merge in the future, with a little patience on the part of the donor and a serious comment on the part of your nonprofit, you will have a great partnership. The converging interests will ensure a high level of sustainability in the relationship, which will help to increase the sustainability of your funding stream and nonprofit. In addition, as your nonprofit’s services and the donor’s interest converge, you will notice an increase in donor loyalty, generosity, and engagement.

At this point, you have captured the donor’s heart. The next step is to demonstrate that everything you have said is real. This is where you tell the donor how your team serves clients and share the statistics that prove how successful your process is (consistent, reproducible, and scalable).

Throughout the preceding steps you have shared anecdotes that help the donor understand the various points. Now is the time to solidify everything. Tell the donor why them. In theory, anyone with a bank account will do. This is where you make it very personal for the donor and help them understand why they are the perfect partner and why now is the best time for them to become one of your partners.

Next Step:

Develop an inspiring explanation for “why”

Use words and anecdotes that create images in your donors’ and prospective donors’ minds

Use your time with donors to create personal relationships between your donors and your mission

Engage donors in volunteer activities

Be patient; building relationships takes time and should be at a comfortable pace for the donor

Here are a few points to remember:

Donor cultivation is a lengthy process. Trying to do everything suggested here quickly in one or a few meetings is unlikely to be successful.

You are building a personal relationship, you will want to cover the preceding points in whatever order and at whatever depth each conversation allows or enables.

Donor are busy people. They have many things on their minds and many of the things you will say to them are new. Therefore, you must be prepared to repeat some of the important points multiple times.

Long-time donors need just as much cultivation as your newest donor. In addition, as time passes and the donors’ lives change, their interests, needs, and expectations change. You need to be constantly changing your cultivation to fit the changes in the donors’ lives.

Constantly audit what the donor is experiencing through your words and their volunteer activities.

Apply all of the preceding to every presentation you make on behalf of your nonprofit. In other words, treat every room full of people or small group you talk with like you would any donor. Since you have been given the opportunity to talk with the group, there is a high probability that at least one of them could be a new donor if your words, pictures, anecdotes, and statistics give them the right experience.

Donor generosity, loyalty, and engagement depend on the donor’s experience. When they have a good experience, they will help you create a sustainable funding stream.

Take It Further:

Train your board to use the same process when talking to anyone or group (internally or externally)

Monitor your conversion rate (prospects to donors) and your increase in donor generosity, loyalty, and engagement as indicators of the effectiveness of the experiences you are giving your donors and prospective donors


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