Guest post by Sohini Baliga
I wasn’t surprised when Elise asked me to write about the connection between marketing and communications and fundraising in the non-profit world. Marcomms professionals, even senior C-suite executives, are more flummoxed than they should be by the idea of non-profit fundraising. It’s easy to see why.
Fundraising seems no different than plain old business development. Except, as the name suggests, the non-profit world isn’t about profit, even though any board treasurer will tell you they’re all about revenue. And you’re definitely making deals all the time but it’s about supporting and carrying out a mission. So it’s the same thing, except when ….it’s not? I could write a whole other blog post about the differences. But I’d like to step back for a moment because people are scared away from fundraising before they even get started—and that is a shame.
Here’s what I’m going to say to anyone making that first foray into fundraising: You know a lot more than you think you do! Here’s why: Fundraising is all about something you already know – relationships, etiquette, and optimism.
You Had Me At Hello: Fundraising begins with relationships. It’s about networking, getting to know donors, finding out what’s important to them, keeping in touch, reaching out at the right time, and then getting them to take a supportive action. Hopefully, you already know how to do that.
Think about it. Would you hand over your money to a company or product you’d never heard of? You gotta have some sort assurance that your cash isn’t going into a black hole, right? Right. Which brings me to “the ask.”
The Right Time: There’s an elegance and finesse to asking donors for support. Good fundraising begins with relationships, but great fundraising is a courtship, one where you spend time getting to know one another, so that the answer to “Will you?” is a happy, unequivocal “Yes!”
Again, think about it. If you need assurance when you’re exchanging money for goods or services, wouldn’t you want even more when there is no ROI? Remember, there is no profit here. That means you better know when to ask and what words to use.
Are you in marcomms? Then you have this part down, pat. Because great fundraisers, like their compatriots in marketing and communications know how and when to ask, and with ease and trust.
This is usually the part where everyone’s BS radar kicks in, particularly if they’re outside the profession. Because I say things like “elegance” and ”ease” and “finesse” and many hear “spin.” And to quote the one and only Gini Dietrich, spin sucks.
Which brings me to the next, crucial point.
Storytelling: Whether it’s about eradicating a disease, educating the girl child, or ending wars non-profits begin with good intentions borne of self-evident, humbling facts.
But if it were that simple, we’d have long since ended humanity’s most intractable problems. Yet, here we are—with any number of shooting wars and shameful inequities still bedeviling us. The fact is, it takes a combination of factors to get people moving. It takes more than the existence of a problem to make people take an action. Enter storytelling.
Fundraising is about making a compelling case. It is about putting a face to the facts and figures so that the individual donor doesn’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and simply give up before even starting. It’s about being able to simultaneously look at a big picture while zeroing in on the granular, and helping people see themselves in both. It is about wanting to make a lasting difference.
Now level up, because chances are slim that there isn’t another cause or non-profit attempting to serve the same mission that interests you: A good fundraiser has no trouble telling you why you should donate at a time when everyone wants your dollars. A great fundraiser will demonstrate why your one cause is worth supporting in addition to, or over all the others.
You Gotta Ask: If you know me, you know what I’m going to say—if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. You know how marcomms professionals never take no for an answer? It’s like that with fundraisers. And if marcomms folks are a persistent tribe, fundraisers add optimism to the mix. Fundraisers take for granted that humanity hasn’t given up, and that the vast majority do see themselves in the other, and want to help.
It’s Not Just About Need: Enter the baffling corollary to the last bullet. Yes, you have to ask, and yes there is need. But fundraising isn’t just about need. People will give once to help you keep the lights on. They will become sustained givers because they have an opportunity to be more than their daily lives, to make a lasting difference, and to leave a legacy. And when you ask, you invite them to be part of something bigger.
The premise of fundraising is simple—you want someone to give to your cause of their free will, and with all their heart. You want them to be happy with their support. You want them to give for a whole lot more than a tax deduction letter at the end of the year.
A good fundraiser gets people to give. A great fundraiser gets people to say “Yes!” with excitement, because they were waiting to be asked, and because they’ve been given a compelling case to support by someone who got to know what is important to them.
Sound familiar? It should. I’ve yet to meet a successful marcomm professional who doesn’t already do all of the above naturally and effortlessly.
Sohini Baliga is a writer, strategist, and events producer. She is often brought in to help organizations turn around or turn the corner. Very often, she is asked to stay on to provide everything from content to project management. She is currently executive director of the Vienna Choral Society and consults for New Endeavors By Women — both of whom brought her on for limited engagements. When not writing, Ms. Baliga runs, slowly, to make up for profligate support of the candy industry.