Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reality trumps advice

If you ever wonder whether fundraising theory and advice really work in practice, you’ll want to read this.

This is a story about my friend Ephraim who is a fundraiser on behalf of an educational institution overseas. He has been coming here twice a year for the past six years to raise money for the organization. His appeal has always been for the unrestricted funds that will allow the institution to continue to operate. Over the years he has enjoyed moderate success.

On his latest trip however Ephraim’s case for giving changed. A project had emerged. The organization needs $2 million over the next three months to take advantage of an opportunity that has arisen. With the money, they will be able to secure permanent housing for many of their students.

They began their fundraising efforts in their local community, aggressively reaching out to previous supporters, families of current students and alumni. They met with success. They also secured financing from local banks. By the time Ephraim came to Canada, 75% of the needed funds were in place.

At each appointment he described the project, its benefit to the organization and the time constraints. Then he talked about what they had already done to raise money and detailed the success they were having.

This has been his most successful fundraising trip ever. The response has been overwhelming with donors adding significantly to what they have given in the past and a number of new donors coming on board.

While there are many reasons for Ephraim’s success, I would point to three in particular. Not only do they account for the success of this appeal, they provide an action plan for the messaging in any campaign.

Purpose – donors knew exactly what the money was going to be used for. More importantly they understood the benefit to the organization. In turn, that meant there was a clear value proposition for donors. They knew exactly how they could make a difference.

Urgency – there was a definite time frame in which the money was needed and a reason for that window of opportunity. Donors understood that these were extraordinary circumstances and that the organization needed the money now.

Momentum – donors wanted to jump on the bandwagon. The efforts that had been taken locally built confidence and were inspiring. There’s something counter-intuitive at play here. You might think that the organization’s local success would lead donors to believe that they didn’t have to give. But the truth is that everyone loves a winner and demonstrating success is in fact motivational to donors.

It seems to me that any time you can authentically represent these three factors – purpose, urgency and momentum – in an appeal or a campaign, you will improve results.

But don’t take my word for it. Take Ephraim’s.

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