insider look on fundraising appeals

Having worked in the non-profit world for most of my adult life, I’ve gained significant perspectives and experiences in the fundraising world. While I wouldn’t enjoy being “the man” who has to make “the ask”, I have learned quite a bit about how fundraising works, and here’s an insider’s look to demystify and deconstruct fundraising just a bit.

Wikipedia describes a non-profit organization as an organization that exists “to support an issue or matter of private interest or public concern for non-commercial purposes, without concern for monetary profit. A nonprofit organization may be involved in a wide range of areas relating to the arts, social issues, charities, early childhood education, healthcare, politics, religion, research, sports or some other endeavor.” In short, it’s an organizational entity formed for doing something of social good or advocate a social cause, with the American government giving tax-deductible incentive for people to do good for society by donating and funding non-profits. The peculiar thing about this kind of an entity is the 2 groups of people a non-profit has to work with — the clients who get its services, and the supporters who provide the funding. In a normal business or company, the customer is the one who receives the products and/or services and also pays for them. In the non-profit world, you have to maintain relationships with 2 separate groups. Okay, it’s getting a tad too technical, back to the point.

2 things that make fundraising work: vision and emotions. To raise money takes a compelling vision or cause. To make the fundraising appeal, typically “the ask” has to involve the emotions. Now with anything that involves emotions, there’s that fine line between sincerity vs. manipulation, and that’s not so easy to distinguish. The picture of a hungry or poor child tends to be the most emotionally grabbing, but when does it cross the line of emotional manipulation? I can’t draw that line, but it does raise the question of the staff’s and/or the organization’s motives. And who can know the motives of another person? What one can know is the operational integrity of an organization and the staff, and that’s discovered through its financial accountability and consistency of holding to its word.

I say all this to make a connection to my personal fundraising effort to defray the cost of my cross country move. Not a very compelling cause, because I’m not needy. No tax-deductible incentive. No emotionally-wrenching photograph or story to appeal to your feelings. So I’m not using the best fundraising tactics. I’m just putting it out here, and I’m grateful to those who have responded. This morning was the biggest surprise, with the biggest donation to date. I’m working with the donor to confirm how best to break the news. See my sponsors page to see how far along I am towards my fundraising goal!

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