Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's Not About You

Several years ago, when I was VP of Advancement at a university, one of my first official acts was to instruct our communications department to get rid of the tagline on the campus newsletter. The offending line?

It’s All About Us.

No, it’s not. It is about them: our clients and our donors. Our needs have to be their needs if we are to be successful in raising funds and getting grants to move our missions forward.

In virtually all of the grant writing and fundraising classes I teach, there is a discussion about why someone should support your particular nonprofit. In grant speak, that is the need; for individual fund raising it is the case. What I find interesting is that most of my students approach this from the point of view of the activities their organization undertakes.

Sometimes these activities are compelling. Who doesn’t want to feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate children? On the other hand, those admirable activities do nothing to show your uniqueness. There is no reason why, of all the organizations that feed, house or educate, yours is the one that deserves funding. Nor have you proven that there is urgency about what you do.

That requires a different perspective. You have to remember who it is about, and no, it still isn’t about us.

First and foremost, there are your clients. These are the people (or causes—like the environment, animals, peace) for whom (which) you exist. You must always make your case or state your need with an eye to what is currently happening to them, and then explain what you envision a more perfect situation to be. How will your clients benefit? What will change in their lives? How will the world, your clients’ world, be better?

Secondly, but of equal if different importance, are the people and organizations who support you or who you hope will support you. By all means, tell them about your clients and about their needs/problems. But then, as you are discussing their gift or grant you have to shift your vision a bit and focus on what these potential supporters want.

This is the essence of donor center fund raising. After you clear away all the fluff, it is looking at what we do as if we were the donor. Most donors don’t care about the logistics of how we accomplish our work. They simply want assurances that the work gets done. They want to hear about your successes, and learn about what you learned from your failures.

They want to be talked with, not to or at. And they want to feel that they are of importance and interest to you beyond their pocketbooks.

Call a donor when you want absolutely nothing except, perhaps, to share a great story about one of your clients. Or ask the donor what he or she thinks about something you are considering doing. Tell them what their support—and their interest—has meant to your organization and the people or causes it serves.

Try this. Call a donor or a prospect and ask them what they want from your organization and for your clients. And then work with them to figure out how you can make their hope and dream come true.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at jlevine@levinemorton.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.levinemorton.com/classes.html.

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