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Easier Said Than Done : Elements of a Great Fundraising Offer

You aren’t offering anything tangible, so your case has to be pretty powerful.

September 2009 By Jeff Brooks
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When you raise funds, you're selling a "warm glow." Fulfillment of a religious or social obligation. A sense of significance. The most tangible thing you have to offer is a tax break, which most donors actually don't care about very much. To get right down to it, you're selling almost nothing.

You can accomplish this tall order by creating a powerful fundraising offer — a call to action that will make donors look beyond the intangibility of what they're buying and happily reach for their checkbooks anyway.

The best fundraising offers have these seven elements:

1. A problem
Something isn't right in the world. Something's missing. Somebody is hungry, sick or lost. A situation needs to change. Maybe it's more of an opportunity than a problem: Something great can happen if we take action.

You must use every creative and imaginative tool at your disposal to help donors see the problem as real, believable and threatening. It should seem big — but not so big that it looks hopeless. Most of all, the problem has to be straightforward and easy to visualize.

Many offers fall flat because fundraisers backpedal on this point. They downplay the problem, making it seem more like an unfortunate sociological phenomenon than a crisis that urgently needs to be fixed. Or they don't quite get around to saying what the problem actually is, counting on donors to read between the lines.

This part of the fundraising offer is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts and an unflinching, eyes-open approach to vividly portray a problem that will motivate donors to act. People on your team who are timid, paranoid or bureaucratic-minded will not like it!

2. A solution
Once you've made a compelling case that there's a problem, you face a second, similar challenge: selling the solution. That's tough because it has to be the donor's solution to the problem — not necessarily the organization's. That means maintaining a clear and obvious connection to the problem — not necessarily the complex, root-cause connection you worked hard to articulate as you trained your staff, or in the brand guidelines that you should recycle as soon as possible. Simplicity is everything.

If the problem is hunger, the solution should be food — even if your organizational goals center around economic empowerment, civil society, or anything similarly lofty and abstract. Remember, those things are effective at eliminating hunger because they result in food. Most donors aren't going to follow the winding trail that leads from civil society to a child rescued from death's grip. And why should they? Do you know how your cell phone works, or do you just want it to work?

 

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Most Recent Comments:
Kari Kiel - Posted on September 18, 2009
Great article!
Thought I'd share some additional resources that may be helpful for nonprofits to better plan, manage and execute fundraising events. Good Luck!
http://www.dojiggy.com/Resource_Center/
Connie Oswald Stofko - Posted on September 17, 2009
Well said! So many fundraisers forget to include an emotional appeal. I'm not sure why; I think it's quite easy. Just interview someone your organization has helped. Tell a story!
Alistair McKechnie - Posted on September 14, 2009
A great three page textbook, straight into my favourites. But let's aim for more than a warm glow. Outrage is good. Tears are great. The same stuff that we pay good money for in a movie or a book, really. Which is why so many movies are based around Christmas as well.
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Archived Comments:
Kari Kiel - Posted on September 18, 2009
Great article!
Thought I'd share some additional resources that may be helpful for nonprofits to better plan, manage and execute fundraising events. Good Luck!
http://www.dojiggy.com/Resource_Center/
Connie Oswald Stofko - Posted on September 17, 2009
Well said! So many fundraisers forget to include an emotional appeal. I'm not sure why; I think it's quite easy. Just interview someone your organization has helped. Tell a story!
Alistair McKechnie - Posted on September 14, 2009
A great three page textbook, straight into my favourites. But let's aim for more than a warm glow. Outrage is good. Tears are great. The same stuff that we pay good money for in a movie or a book, really. Which is why so many movies are based around Christmas as well.