Donors don’t “invest” for the same reasons as Wall Street

For many charities, “corporate-style” communications are the rule. Yet that style is the worst choice for philanthropy. You want to raise lots more money? Talk a different way. I’ll be honest: it took me awhile to figure this out.

I was poorly prepared, you see. I’d earned a professional credential in business communications. I’d worked in public relations and knew how to pitch a story to the business press. I was trained to write about how great a company was, to make that publicly-traded company look tantalizing to investors.

But there’s the problem: donors aren’t investors; not really, not technically, not in the traditional sense as understood on Wall Street. As Warren Buffett said, in his signature plain style: “Investing is laying out money now in order to get more money back in the future.”

Donors to charity see no financial gain from laying out their hard-earned money. That’s exactly what makes our work “non-profit.” Wikipedia: “A nonprofit organization is an organization that uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its purpose or mission, rather than distributing its surplus income to the organization’s shareholders as profit or dividends.”

In the for-profit world, we talk about how fabulous our organization is in order to lure investors. Investors want to make money. We show them why they will likely do so by placing their bet on us. We talk about our great products and services. We talk about our incredible rosy future, as we disrupt fading, legacy industries and gobble up like Pac-Man market share from our competitors.

But that boasting approach is inappropriate in fundraising.

In fundraising, talking about how great your organization is actually prevents people from achieving a deeper emotional connection with you.

Let me sum this up, so we can move on:

  • “CORPORATE” communications are about how great your CHARITY is. It’s the worst choice for fundraising. It gathers only the lowest of low-hanging fruit.
  • “DONOR” communications (appeals, thanks, newsletters, giving pages) are about how great your DONOR is. I’ve seen that voice multiply the charitable harvest two, three … even ten times.

Burn that distinction into your brain, and your nonprofit’s communications will make more money.

Ignore that distinction, and your communications will always underperform.

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