graphic of figure in a question mark important questionSeveral nights ago I was out with some friends in Asheville, NC. We were talking about how, in relative terms, it is easier to raise funds for some causes than for others. For example, it might be easier to raise funds for orphans, animals and hungry people than for a community choir, the symphony, the local theater group, or the college of design at a University.
The dialogue got me thinking about how to create donor offers in some of these more “difficult” situations.
Our approach to creating donor offers focuses on clearly describing the compelling need your organization is addressing, including a story that describes the need with emotion and energy, and then presenting the donor with a believable solution: how your organization will address the need.
This approach really works.
But here is another idea how to present those seemingly “less sellable” causes that you, as a MGO, may find more difficult to package into a donor offer. This idea comes to us from one of the MGOs at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design.
Picture this. The MGO is trying to figure out how to create “compelling need” around the need for architecture, answering the question of why society needs architects, what is it that they do that matters, etc., and how then to use that in donor conversations.
Here is how this MGO handled this situation.
He went to the donor (an alumnus of the University and a practicing architect) and asked him the following question: “I have some thoughts about this, but what do you think – what difference can an architect make in our world today?”
The donor was really stunned, in a positive way. He said it was a great question. And then he just opened up, and he talked for some time about how important it is for architects to step into a leadership role and to think about the most intractable societal problems and how they can help. He then talked about the role of architecture in building healthy cities, and he came up with a number of other applications. In essence, this donor defined why the education of architects was a societal benefit.
It was a joyful and productive conversation, and it led the donor to become more involved. Now this donor is thinking about setting up a large Charitable Gift Annuity. And because of this conversation, it is so much more possible for the MGO to begin to talk about a current transformational gift for the college program that is shaping the next generation of leading architects.
What a great idea! This is one you can apply to your own situation.
If you are a MGO who is “stuck” in the process of trying to figure out how to present your seemingly “un-sellable” cause to a donor, try approaching your donor this way. Just use this question and fill in the blank with your cause: “What difference can ___________ make in our world?” And then engage with the donor and her answer.
The question might sound like this:

  • “What difference do you think a food pantry can make in a community?”
  • “What difference do you think a good K-12 education can make in Rwanda?”
  • “What difference do you think supporting a military family make for the family and our nation?”
  • “What difference do you think orphan care make for the lives of the children in Moldova?”
  • “What difference do you think opera makes in our world?”
  • “What difference do you think theater makes in our world?”

I think you get what I am saying here – turn the question around and ask the donor. The donor himself will help you make the case for his financial involvement.
Back to my friends in Asheville – and a story of how the fundraiser for the local community choir might answer the question “what difference does choral music make in our world today?”
We went to a concert with them one night. One of them sang in this impressive choir. The performance was incredible, and the words and music transported my wife and me to another place. As I was reading the program notes which the music director had written about one of the pieces they had performed, my eye landed on a powerful and moving statement from a person who had personally benefitted from that music. Here is what he said:
“…that piece of music has become a rock in my sea of grief that I turn to each day to gain strength and solace.”
This statement provides one emotional and persuasive answer to the question “what difference does music make in our world today?” Music, in this case, had transported this good person from a darkness that had engulfed him; it provided him with a sure footing in his journey to make it through a very tough time.
I am sure that if we asked another concert-goer the “difference” question, she would say: “it raises my eyes and my spirit from the mundane to the sublime.” Or “it pulls me out of the petty to the important.” Or “it brings me peace and comfort.” Or “it reminds me that there is nothing to be afraid of.” This list could go on and on…
My point is simply this. When you are having a difficult time coming up with the convincing, compelling rationale for your cause – note the words “compelling” and “convincing” – when it gets difficult like this, turn to the donor as the University MGO did, and ask him the “difference” question. You will find in the donor’s answer the compelling reason for support you are seeking.