You have a flat tire, so you need to go get it fixed. You’re hungry so you stop and get some fast food, or you visit the grocery store. When you’re not feeling well – you go to the doctor. If your computer malfunctions – you take it in to get it fixed.

All these real-life situations speak to how we deal with the “problems” that show up in our daily lives. You might want to call them situations. OK, that’s fine. But they are things that need to be addressed. Things are not right. You need to get them right.

That is essentially what a non-profit does. It is organized to make a certain set of societal problems “right.” It is organized to address a problem.

Now, the problem being addressed can run the gamut from very serious life-threatening circumstances (a famine or a devastating earthquake or a war) to community building (social non-profits like Rotary or Kiwanis, etc.). The one thing for sure is that there is a need (problem) being addressed. That is why the people involved have organized themselves to DO something about that need – to address a problem.

This point is a fact. Non-profits are organized to address societal problems.

Since this is true, you would think it would be easy for the insiders in development, marketing, and communications to create effective messaging when talking about the problem. But it isn’t easy. And that is what Jeff and I find so amazing.

I’ve been thinking about this. Why do we have so much difficulty talking about the problem in our storytelling about our organizational work? Here are six reasons:

  1. There is a need to focus on us and how great we are.

    This is a common situation we run into all the time. The insiders love talking about how great their organization is – how effective they are – how well known and connected they are – the wonderful processes and systems that are in place – the amazing board members – etc. Jeff and I have never understood this. Do you really think donors are interested in how great your organization is? Well, they are to the point of wanting to know their giving is effectively used, but that’s about it.

  2. We can’t deal with emotions.

    We have a very hard time dealing with the emotional content of the problem the organization is addressing. It’s uncomfortable. So, we avoid it and engage in a bunch of happy talk.

  3. We have a reputation to protect.

    We fear that if we talk about the problem, any number of outsiders will criticize us for doing it.

  4. It feels like we’re being manipulative.

    We fear that talking about the problem is really manipulating the donor into giving. But this comes down to a misunderstanding of the role of fundraising and the role of the donor as your partner.

  5. We’re told to stop being so negative.

    Donors and other “authority figures” we care about tell us we are distributing too much negative messaging via our appeals, newsletters, videos, website, etc. and that it is ruining our standing. Can’t we, they ask, be more positive and talk about all the good that is being done?

  6. We don’t understand how fundraising works.

    This is the part that is very hard for Jeff and me to understand since we are assuming that most non-profits have hired experienced professionals to do their fundraising, marketing, and communications work. Fundraising, at its core, is presenting a societal problem to like-minded individuals and institutions and asking them to join us in addressing that problem.

    The solicitation portion of fundraising (acquisition, appeals, mid and major gift asks, institutional proposal) is about presenting a problem to be solved and asking the donor to participate. The cultivation side of fundraising is a combination of telling the donor how their gift made a difference (reporting on impact) and sharing with them what else needs to be done (set up for the ask).

    You can see that in these two phases of fundraising we are dealing with the problem AND we are doing the reporting back (impact/outcomes) function. A lot of people do not understand this basic structure with its related objectives. Which is why they do not talk about the problem at appropriate times and in appropriate ways.

Look at the six reasons people avoid talking about the problem their non-profit is addressing. Which ones apply to you?

Now, what are you going to do about it? You will not be effective in talking to your mid, major, or planned giving donor if you do not get this one area right in your messaging, storytelling, and strategies. It will not happen.

So, purpose to get back to presenting problems that need solutions to your donors. And when they give, tell them their gift made a difference and do it in great detail with joy, positivity and hopefulness.

Then tell them what else needs to be done. Believe me, your donor will be a lot happier and fulfilled. Why? Because their whole reason for giving to you in the first place is to solve a problem they care about. And you helped them do it! There is nothing better than that.