Published in the September 2017 issue of “Nonprofit Pro Magazine”
By Richard L. P. Solosky, MNM


If there is one question that many nonprofits, especially smaller, younger, and generally underfunded organizations forget to answer, it’s this simple question…

What makes your organization great?

It generally amazes me how many nonprofits skip right over a value proposition that explains why someone should give them any money.  If you want to get people to share your vision of the future, you must effectively answer these three questions:

  1. What do you do?
  2. Why is it important? And…
  3. What impact do you deliver to the community?

Answering those three questions, won’t guarantee you success, but they sure do help.  There is often an aura of mystique surrounding fundraising, but when you boil it down, it’s fundamentally relationship sales and marketing.  Your goal is to get people with the capacity to give to emotionally connect with your vision and then to participate in your mission at greater and greater levels.  To maximize your success, it is critical to take a systemic approach to fundraising through strategies and tactics that properly position you in the community, reflect the importance of your mission, and demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.

If there is one magic bullet for fundraising success, it boils down to this simple thing that my good friend and mentor, Dick Zellner told me to remember…

“Donors want to be investors in a well-managed organization with an exciting plan for the future.”

Address this premise effectively and you connect donors to your cause.  It is important to identify what creates enthusiasm for your mission and what engages and bonds each individual donor to something they find exciting. But it is also of critical importance to demonstrate that your work is effective, that it supports your theory of change, that it makes a difference to your community, and that a donors’ hard earned money is well-spent.  That’s hard work, but not impossible, especially when you believe in what you do.

Therefore, it’s this simple statement that should form the basis of all your fundraising communications and relationship building activities.  Understanding what’s in it for donors and what excites them is a cornerstone to success.  When donors look to fund an organization, they not only look for success and positive impact, they also want to know what makes you special, because they often identify emotionally with discrete program variations. Therefore, your best bet for improving your brand is to celebrate these differences. Most importantly, when there is a clear delineation between your organization and others, there exists a greater opportunity for collaboration, which collectively reduces competition between those very organizations.

It’s our relationships that fuel fundraising; what’s in it for me?

In developing and building your relationships with donors, it is important to look at each donor as an individual and be able to answer the question: What’s in it for me?  Correspondingly, another “Zellnerism” I’d like to share is that organizations don’t have needs, but people do, especially those with whom you’re trying to engage as donors.  Understanding individual donor needs is a critical step that works to connect, engage, and create ownership of your mission by donors at all levels. Fulfill each donors needs’ first and you gain valuable allies in achieving your mission.

Positioning describes how you stack up to the competition.

While the notion of competition is often a bit foreign in the nonprofit world, I’d like to assert that competition is good for the community. Positioning defines how and where you fit in with regard to your work and mission. Positioning is a way to illustrate how you are unique and to differentiate yourself from all the others that work with your constituents. It forces you to seriously consider the how of what you do and compare and contrast it with others in your field.

Competition in the for-profit world has always driven companies to create better and better products in the interest of creating an edge for increasing sales. This drive to be the best has always benefited the consumer with faster, lighter, smaller/bigger, cheaper, and often exceptional products.  In the nonprofit world, this concept of competition can greatly benefit the community as well and serve to focus programs and deliver greater outcomes to those in need.

Don’t neglect these tried and true fundraising fundamentals

In building relationships and creating engagement and energy around your exciting plan for the future, there are several fundraising principles that provide you leverage.  Here’s a list of some of those basics that we often forget, but really shouldn’t:

  1. Giving is mostly emotional and always personal, donors need to feel personally connected to the mission and your shared vision of the future.
  2. Giving is a social act that makes people happy and they are more likely to participate if they see other people participating.
  3. When it comes to problems, the bigger the numbers, the less people care; people are hardwired to understand their world through emotions and stories, more than through statistics.
  4. People are more easily persuaded by people they like, but more importantly by people they trust.  A great brand works to cement that trust.

How you communicate your importance and your value to the community makes all the difference; you need to demonstrate success in a way that your target audience understands, through both stories and numbers.

When communicating how you’re great, remember these five key engagement strategies:

  1. Make strategic use of images, both still & video.
  2. Let your passion shine.
  3. Avoid the guilt trip.
  4. Tell a compelling story.
  5. Back up your claims.

For you to zero in on the fundraising essentials that help you better engage donors and meet your fundraising objectives, you need a comprehensive plan that maximizes your limited resources, leverages valuable insights about your competition, and that solidifies your position in and value to the community.

To help you kick-start your brand, outreach, and ultimately your fundraising, follow these simple rules.

  1. Ensure that your case for funding describes the community need, how you expertly fill that need, and how funders can share in your journey.
  2. Develop a plan of tactics to balance your revenue and embrace prospective donors through multiple touch points.
  3. Create multiple campaigns to maximize your penetration at all levels of funding.
  4. Utilize marketing research techniques to refine your programs to maximize effectiveness and outcomes.

Whether you are an executive director, development director, or a board member, a big part of your job is to raise money for the organization. DIY typically implies that an amateur is attempting to do the job of a professional.  But that’s just not the case with anyone that is sitting in one of these leadership seats.  By employing some or all of these principles, your funding will shine brighter with an greater luster.