Why is it that fundraising for specific programs comes so easily to nonprofit professionals, yet asking for money to boost marketing or fundraising activities makes our palms sweat?
Professional fundraisers like Dan Pallotta have done much to call out this mindset. In no uncertain terms, Pallotta and others have argued that by not asking funders to invest in their fundraising and marketing activities, nonprofits undermine their ability to generate the kinds of dollars and awareness they need to solve our most pressing problems.
There are several reasons for this. One of the most persistent has to do with boards choosing to focus exclusively on programming and dismissing investments in marketing and fundraising capacity as unwarranted spending on "overhead." Goals involving income, whether donated or earned, are given short shrift. The general attitude is: "Let's see what we can do with our existing marketing/fundraising budget."
This is just wrong. Regardless of how well-intentioned it might be, a board simply can't insist that you generate greater awareness of your cause — not to mention impact — and then do nothing about it.
What are board members in that situation thinking? Are they afraid donors will run for the exits if they're asked to fund something other than programs? Really? Donors deserve more credit than that. They want the same thing we want: to be able to sit down with friends and family and say: "This cause and the work this organization is doing is important to me."
Like most of us, they want the issues they care about to go viral, generating as much awareness and attention as possible. That's because they know it will take more — a lot more — than their gift or donation to truly make a difference. And that's why a growing number of them are ready to put their dollars behind truly creative fundraising and marketing efforts.
We need to stop being bashful about funding the marketing and fundraising efforts needed to make the public aware of our work. We need to lean in to these conversations — and not be reticent when a donor asks about awareness, fundraising, or marketing.
What does that sound like?
Here are a couple of discussion points to use when talking with your donors about investing in your marketing and fundraising efforts:
1. You (the donor) believe in the cause and the work we are doing. Wouldn't you like to share that work with people who haven’t heard about us – and who may care as much about our cause as you do?
The donor almost certainly will understand that there are others out there like him. So feel free to mention that:
- In order for someone to be passionate about a cause or issue, he or she first needs to be exposed to it. And the best way to do that is to create a marketing campaign that: a) generates greater awareness of your cause among the public; b) includes options for potential supporters to provide you with their contact information; and c) enables you to establish a relationship with people who give you their information.
- Once they're made aware of our cause or issue, people tend to want to help. Which is why we need your help to make it easy for them to do that through direct mail marketing, social media campaigns and online donation pages, peer-to-peer fundraising events, and the like.
- Our success in acquiring new donors and supporters is built on consistently (rather than episodically) exposing them to the people we serve and the impact of our work. And that requires robust and evolving internal systems. Without the support of existing donors like you, we can’t afford to build our capacity and keep up with the latest technologies.
2. The people we serve have stories to share that can generate greater interest in and support for our cause. We need your support to develop the creative elements necessary for our marketing and fundraising campaigns to be successful.
Once you've decided to scale your outreach and awareness efforts, a lot will depend on whether you have the necessary design, strategy, and copy writing resources in house or decide, instead, to enlist outside assistance. If you decide to go with outside help, here are some talking points to use with donors:
- We're the experts on this issue, but we realize we need some help in crafting the messaging and designing the materials that will inspire people to embrace our cause. We have a lot of knowledge and a lot of skilled people on staff, but professionals from outside bring a fresh perspective and are often able to execute a project faster and more cost effectively than internal staff.
- We need to invest more in our fundraising and creative outreach if we want to connect with and acquire new donors and supporters who care about our issue. Think of it as an investment in the sustainability of an organization you admire and already support.
It's a big world out there with a lot of problems — and a lot of people who are trying to fix them. If you count yourself among them, you need to become more fearless in your fundraising and in asking others to support the good work you do.
Your donors won't mind. They want you to succeed and have the greatest impact possible. It's your job to help them understand exactly what that entails.
Start having those conversations sooner rather than later. Your donors and supporters are ready to do what needs to be done to get your cause or issue in front of as many people as possible and to motivate those people to act!
Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency for causes, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.