Episode 017 – 5 Secrets to Successful Fundraising

Fundraising, Podcasts

By Jeremy Reis

When I joined Food for the Hungry just over 6 years ago, there was a lot I needed to learn about fundraising. In this special episode, I reflect on the lessons I’ve learn over these years and share the five secrets successful fundraisers know. You’ll learn how to demonstrate urgency, how to be more direct with your ask, a mistake you’re likely making in how you talk to donors, a lesson on using facts to motivate donors, and key insights into showing gratitude. These lessons, learned over the course of raising tens of millions of dollars, will help propel you forward as a nonprofit fundraiser.

Full Transcript:

When I joined Food for the Hungry, I thought I was going to blow right by expectations in fundraising. I came in with a consulting background and an MBA, I could figure out the secrets to fundraising quickly and knock a home run in our digital fundraising in no time, right? What I discovered is that I have a lot to learn. You see many of the things that work in fundraising are counter intuitive. Many of the things I learned in Corporate America and in my MBA program were small lessons compared to the decades of fundraising expertise surrounding me. Instead of coming in with guns blazing, I had to go back to school and learn how fundraising works. Once I learned these secrets, many through a tough trial and error process to direct marketing, I began applying those secrets to our digital fundraising to find success.

My main teachers throughout this journey, have been the experts at BBS and Associates, and also two of my mentors, Tim Smith and Mike Myers. BBS and Associates, they’re our direct marketing agency at Food for the Hungry, I think they’re one of the best, I highly recommend them. Go visit them at ServantHeart.Com, and see the difference that they can make at your non-profit. Today I’m going to share secrets that these mentors have taught me and that I’ve learned through that tough trial and error process. I’m gonna talk about five secrets that experienced fundraisers know.

Fundraising secret number one, demonstrate urgency. Urgency is one of fundraising’s best kept secrets. It’s hard to do and many fundraisers don’t do it because it’s difficult. In a time of disaster when you’re raising funds for a disaster, adding urgency to an appeal is relatively easy because it is urgent. You’ll save more lives and help more people if you raise funds quicker. In other cases, there’s a distinct deadline that helps you get some urgency in your appeal copy. What about other times, what about when it’s just a monthly email to raise funds for an existing campaign? How do we demonstrate urgency?

I’m gonna give you five questions to ask yourself in order to demonstrate urgency in your appeals. Number one, what will the donor miss out on? Number two, what happens if the donor doesn’t give? Number three, do you have a deadline for this campaign? Number four, is there language I can use to express urgency. Number five, what stories can I tell that convey urgency? If you’re able to review those five questions and come up with the answers for those five questions, that will help you prepare your fundraising appeal to include more urgency in your copy. Fundraising secret number two. You need to be more direct with your ask. You are failing both your donor and your organization when you are too soft with your ask.

I know that’s direct but it needs to be. Your donors give because they love your cause. They give because they want to help someone. When you are too shy to ask, you’re stealing and opportunity for them to make a difference. Your donor has a heart for your cause, and you have a passion to do good work. Let the two unite. Many times we fall back towards support, or help, when we really should say give now or donate today. Prospective donors don’t understand the nuance, they want it either. Be clear with them so they understand exactly what you’re asking them to do.

Fundraising secret number three. You’re talking more about yourself than the donor, and that’s a big mistake. I, I, I. We, I, Us. I, I, I. That was just the first two paragraphs of a direct mail acquisition letter I received in the mail from an international relief organization. I counted all the I’s, the we’s and the us’s to see how many times the organization talked about themselves. How many times did they use you or you’re? Two times addressing the donor’s point of view while talking about themselves nine times. This is an easy test you can use on your own fundraising, and incidentally, it’s one of the quickest ways to improve your fundraising appeals. Start talking about the project from the donor’s point of view. You can make a big difference in the life of a child, you can ensure a hungry child goes to bed with food in her belly, you can provide an education for only $15 a month. You is a powerful word, we should use more often as fundraisers

Fundraising secret number four, facts don’t move people to give. We need to educate our donors, if we just tell them how big the problem is they’ll give. This quote doesn’t come from just one person but many people over the past half decade have offered up this advice to me. The problem is, it just doesn’t work. I call this the big number problem. General or mass donors, they don’t have the vision to understand how their $50 gift will make a difference when you throw large numbers at them. Without knowing how their donation will be used to impact one life, they just choose to give elsewhere or not at all. If you tell them that a billion kids are gonna go to bed hungry tonight, please give $50, they don’t have the capacity to understand how that $50 will make any difference at all. Instead tell the prospective donor the story of one person. The story of the one is a powerful fundraising technique that helps connect the reader emotionally to a single life that she can help.

Big numbers won’t move her to donate, in fact the story of one would be enough to accomplish your goal. Fundraising secret number five. You’re not thanking your donor enough. For me, 2018 is the year of gratitude. I need to find more ways for Food for the Hungry to thank donors for their support. We’re not doing it enough, and you’re probably not either. In the minds of your donors, you certainly aren’t. If you’re like us, you’re probably sending a thank you in your receipt whether email, mail or both. You might send a follow up email impact report with another thanks for your donor, but what more are you doing? What more can I do? How about these ideas. Send a customized thank you video to the donor, you can do this really easily in email, there’s platforms that help you do it. Have volunteers of your board send handwritten thank you cards. Invite your donor to a secret group, connecting her to a community of like minded people. This is really powerful and easy to do in Facebook or other social media.

Send a book or a trinket to your donor, host a special event for your donors, send a giving anniversary card to your donor, give her a call to thank her for the gift, and if you’re a religious ministry, offer to pray for her. Thanking your donor is crucial to continue building a relationship with the donor and to develop the donor to multiple gifts. Learn and apply these fundraising secrets to find success with your organization. Thanks, really appreciate the time you spent learning these five secrets that fundraisers know, have a great one.


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