The main reason why it’s so difficult to talk about the problem that your non-profit is organized to address is that you would rather talk about yourself and all the good you’re doing.

Now, hold on!! That’s not meant to be offensive. It’s meant to get your attention and do a little soul searching as well. Let me explain.

I recently had a conversation with a fundraising development person who told me that he thinks that the best way to raise money is to talk about all the good the organization is doing. 

“I send the donors information on what has been accomplished,” he said. “And I do it fairly frequently, so they know we are effective at what we do.”

I asked him how things were going. He sheepishly replied, “Not so well.”

Not surprising.

While donors need to know that you can actually DO what you promise, i.e. solve the problem, the major reason they give is to solve the problem. 

Which is why you must talk about it. All the time.

“But–” you might say. “Isn’t reporting back telling the donor how their gift made a difference? And doesn’t that mean you are talking about what has been accomplished?”

Yes, that’s true. But that is the stewardship piece – telling the donor their giving is making a difference. 

When you are wanting to secure the gift – when you are doing the ask – that is when you talk about the problem in human and emotional terms. Jeff and I always say that the ask is mostly about the devastating problem you are presenting to the donor. And then asking them to join you (the organization) in doing something about it. 

And what I mean by “mostly” is that the problem narrative is 90% of the content. Sandwiched in the middle – NOT at the end – is a 10% statement about how you’ve successfully addressed this problem before. This gives the donor confidence that you have effectively dealt with the problem before and you can do it again. But that is only 10% or less of the narrative when you are doing the ask.

The main point is talking about the problem, what needs to be done, and a call to action to the donor to give to be part of the solution.

Now, why don’t we do this? Why do we most often start off an ask with what we have done and how much has been accomplished? Because we think that is what will motivate the donor to give. And quite the opposite happens. While you are trying to encourage the donor to give, through your positive, solution-focused narrative, you’re telling the donor that you don’t need them to give because “it has all been taken care of.”

Just remember this. 

  • In donor acquisition and asking, it’s always about the problem that needs to be solved – the 90% (problem) / 10% (solution) rule. 
  • In stewardship, it’s about telling the donor that their giving is making a difference AND talking about the next problem that needs to be solved – still following the 90% (your giving is making a difference) / 10% (setting up the next problem to solve) rule.

If you strictly follow these guidelines, you will experience more success in your fundraising. And the donor will be more satisfied as they join you to solve problems and feel good about having made a difference once they have given.