“Do you want the money?” the frontline fundraiser said to the program person. “Do you want more money to continue your program?” she clarified with additional emphasis and urgency.
And when the program person wagged his head in agreement, she added: “Then give me the program information I need to present to my donors, and I will secure the funds you need!”
That tiny discourse captures the essence of one of the most perplexing and disturbing dynamics in fundraising – program people who do not understand how dependent fundraisers are on the information they have about the societal need the organization is addressing, how the organization will meet that need, and how the donor’s giving will make a difference. Information, for instance, on how the donor’s gift will change a life or rescue an animal or protect the environment.
When Jeff and I look at the macro elements of how fundraising works, it boils down to a very simple equation that has these three points:
- There is a societal need that the donor and the organization want to do something about.
- There is information on how that need will be addressed and what it will cost in time, effort, and resources to take care of it.
- There is a statement on the consequences of not meeting the need.
And these three points are all wrapped into a story or narrative that is described in human and emotional terms so that the donor can FEEL the need and the urgency.
But none of this will happen unless program delivers the information. And that is where the problem starts. In many non-profits, the link between program and fundraising is broken. So, the information either does not flow over to fundraising as it should, or it doesn’t flow at all. The result is one or more of these situations:
- There is no formal system set up to give fundraising a complete list of all the program categories and subcategories, and the budgets, timing, and stories related to each.
- If there is a system, the program people decide, without consulting with the fundraisers (who represent their donors), what program categories and subcategories have priority. Jeff and I understand that donors never dictate your mission. But, there is not enough creativity in balancing this need with donors’ passions and interests.
- There is program information but no related financial information. So, the fundraiser only has half of the story for their donor. They can only tell the donor what needs to be done. However, they have to remain silent on how much it will cost and therefore what level of financial participation the donor can have. This paralyzes fundraising and results in lower revenue generation.
There may be variations on these points. But, the big point here is this: program information is the fuel that drives the fundraising engine. Without that fuel, the engine stalls and falls silent. And when it does, program cannot do its job due to lack of funding.
Several weeks ago, I was in a conversation with a fundraising manager of a leading worldwide non-profit. He was telling me about his frustration with the program area. “I tell them what our donors need in order to give,” he said. “And they tell me, ‘the donor does not need that information – they just need to give. We don’t have time to give the donor what they need.’ So, program gives me information and it’s totally different than what the donors have said they want! Don’t they realize that if the donor wants to support or give to X, but all that is given to fundraising is information on Y and Z, that the donor will not give?!!”
He was very frustrated. And so was I. Frustrated because I had heard this story so many times. Internal people, who don’t really understand fundraising, dismiss the donor’s stated needs and wants, and then they’re frustrated that revenue generation has fallen behind and their budgets have been cut.
Don’t let this happen in your organization. There is an undeniable link and co-dependency between the donor’s passions and interests and the program information they’re given. Supply that information (including financial info) and your revenue and budget needs will be taken care of. Withhold it and experience a scarcity of funding.
It’s your choice.