3 Perspective Shifts Nonprofits Need to Make

There are a lot of different ways to get more donations — more compelling storytelling, greater project transparency, better marketing, simplified donation processes, more creative fundraising activities — but these are all secondary.

The single most effective thing you can do to grow your fundraising is to change the way you see your donors, and subsequently, how you speak to them.

I’ve been in the nonprofit world for over a decade. I’ve been a part of multiple types of nonprofits, both local and international. I’ve volunteered, I’ve donated, I’ve fundraised, I’ve done contract work, I’ve been on staff, and now I’m currently the director of marketing for a nonprofit.

At some point, nonprofits will experience stagnation or decline. This is especially true for older organizations. I’ve been a part of many nonprofits that try to revive their donor base by revamping their website, getting slicker with social media, or trying to create a viral campaign. These methods might move the needle a little bit, but they won’t generate long-term sustainable growth.

If your nonprofit is experiencing a plateau or a decrease in your donor base, you need to make three fundamental shifts in how you perceive your donors and how you speak to them.


Shift #1: Your Donor Is the Hero, Not You

Most nonprofits talk about the important work they do. They highlight the projects they have and the impact they’ve made. Then they ask people to donate to help them in their projects. This puts donors in the position of a sideline spectator.

To effectively speak to a potential donor, you need to position the donor as the hero doing the work and making the impact. Though your organization may be doing the tangible work, your donors make that work possible. Without them, your nonprofit wouldn’t exist.

In your marketing language, talk to donors as the ones who are making a difference. Your organization is the support that helps donors achieve their mission in the world. And the donors need to feel that way too.

An easy way to make this shift is to replace all mentions of your organization with “you.” So instead of “We’re changing lives around the world,” say, “You’re changing lives around the world.”

Put the donor in the role of the person directly making the impact. Since the physical act of donating is relatively disconnected from the tangible work — someone writes a few words on a small piece of paper, or types a credit card number on a computer — it’s essential that donors feel like they are the central hero of the operation rather than a supportive sidekick.


Shift #2: Your Donors Aren’t Giving Freely, They’re Buying a Feeling

I know that sounds dirty and wrong, but it’s reality. Businesses know this, but most nonprofits and donors aren’t aware of it. Let’s start with the business side.

Companies don’t sell products or services. They sell results, and more specifically, the feelings of the results. People don’t care about buying running shoes; they care about feeling healthy and athletic when they go for a run. The type of shoes is just a means to those results.

When it comes to nonprofits, donors need to feel good about donating, and more specifically, feel like they are a good person. If they don’t feel that, they won’t donate.

If you want people to donate, you have to realize that each donation is transactional. People are giving money to your nonprofit. They expect you to do good with that money, but at a deeper level, they’re looking for something in return.

They’re buying hope — hope that you’ll do as you say to make the world better. They’re buying purpose — the feeling that they’ve done something meaningful in the world. And they’re buying assurance — assurance that they’re a good person.

To give donors this feeling, you need to be clear about what the donor is getting, and be sure to deliver on that after the donation.

On your donation page and leading up to it, be transparent about exactly what you will do with their money. In an indirect way, give a compelling reason for how donating to your organization will give them those feelings. For example, “When you donate, you are among the special people who care about [this cause], and your funds will go to [launching this project]. Thank you for stepping up to [make this change].”

Just as important is what happens after the donation — you need to deliver on the promise of your transaction. If you have a generic “thank you” page or email with a receipt, you’ve just acknowledged they’ve donated. You haven’t assured them of everything they expected to happen when they decided to donate.

Share more details of the project they’ve given to — perhaps a progress marker or a timeline. For projects in progress, share a story or update. This has to be immediate. Send followup emails with updates on what your organization is doing with what your donors gave you. Donors will donate again only if they get the feelings they were hoping for when they first donated.


Shift #3: Hope, Not Guilt, Will Sustain Donors

We’ve all seen some variation of the starving African child with a bloated belly. Though it communicates a real problem, it’s also sadly an overused, guilt-ridden cliché of charities. Nonprofits generally exist to solve a problem in the world, but often, they focus too much on the problem. They rely on guilting donors into helping.

Guilt is a powerful motivator. It does work in moving people to donate. But it’s also very draining and short-lived. People will eventually run low on guilt and disconnect from the cause. Constantly telling people how bad the problem is will result in emotional fatigue and donor burnout.

On the other hand, hope will sustain donors as well as fuel further giving. People naturally seek improvement and will continue down a course where they see progress. Your mission gives donors a path forward, and small wins create hope that you will, in fact, fulfill your mission.

Create hope by painting a picture of the world you want to create. Don’t just tell people what your nonprofit does; tell them what will happen when you’re successful. What does “mission accomplished” look like to you? Give your donors something to look forward to.

Once you cast your vision of what the future could look like, you have to show that you’re moving there. Continue to build and fuel that hope by providing updates on your progress toward that goal. People want to be on a winning team, not a sinking ship. Sharing stories of how much good is being done or how many more supporters are joining this cause will inject your donors with hope and compel them to engage even more.


This Is How You Should Be Speaking to Your Donors

Many nonprofits are stagnant or in decline because they rely on people caring about a cause, feeling charitable with their money, finding and learning about their organization, and then donating.

But with the rapid growth of media outlets and fast-paced news bites, people are bombarded with different causes to care about and they’re getting fatigued. There are also numerous new nonprofits being created every year (in addition to all the informal crowdfunding campaigns), so the options to donate have multiplied.

Simply talking about why your cause and mission are important isn’t enough. For your nonprofit to rise above the crowd, you need to start thinking like a business and start marketing like a business.

It doesn’t mean you get deceptive or sleazy. It does mean that you get more personal with donors. It means you take the focus off your organization and onto your donors. It means you have something to offer to them, instead of just asking for something from them.

Trying new marketing trends and tactics will help you a little with growth. But to really see a significant increase in your donations, you need to shift your perspective and get to the core of why your donors want to donate.


This article was originally published on Medium.

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