Fundraising Starts with Knowing Your Audience

My favorite opening comedic line is, “Hi.  My name is Jack.  How do you like my act so far?”

When I think of “knowing your audience” I immediately think of performers and especially stand-up comics.  Their success and popularity depends on how plugged in they are to their audience.  Those that fail to make a connection fall flat and scurry off the stage in defeat.

Success in fundraising also relies on knowing the people you plan to ask for donations.  Through your fundraising letters, calls, visits, reports, and tours you are working to align your work with your donor’s interests.  You are trying to offer them a value proposition that will motivate a response and help them meet their own charitable giving goals.

It is easy to see that people will not respond to things they consider irrelevant or untimely.  But, we often forget that just because they have given to our organization in the past, doesn’t mean that everything we do is of interest to them—It probably isn’t.

So, how can you get to know your donor audience enough to ask them for the right amount for the right program or need?  Here are some timely tips:

  • Look at their giving history with your organization. Past giving is a great indicator of what they might like to do in the future.  By examining their giving history, you might see that they respond best when asked to help purchase new equipment.  So, make your future solicitations around your equipment needs or programs using new equipment.
  • Look at their work, clubs and hobbies, or even how they vote. This information can easily be found through public records (Google searches).  It provide hints about your donor’s interests and beliefs.  What project or program do you have that can relate to the things they do in other parts of their lives?
  • Consider their family situation. Do they have young children which might suggest that they will respond to programs that protect babies?  Is a family member disabled?  Have they endured a tragic accident that has led to great compassion for something specific? Are they caring for elderly parents and focused on issues of aging?  Never forget that people give where their hearts and minds are.  Hospitals raise most of their charitable money from people who had their lives (or a loved one) saved at the hospital.
  • Connect with your donor’s aspirations. Sometimes you will learn something about a donor’s hopes and dreams and then figure out how to get their involvement with your organization as a step to fulfilling those dreams.  For instance, in pro-life we know that people who desperately want a family are appalled that someone else might consider aborting.  They likely will be interested in abortion prevention education or maybe even promotion of adoption.
  • Listen to your donor and ask questions. Donors are often happy to share why they care about your organization.  We too often forget to engage our donors in friendly conversation where we ask and listen rather than simply tell them what we want them to know.  Ask leading questions that get your donors sharing.

The adage is true.  “If first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  A donor may turn you down or not respond to a specific proposal.  That does not mean they never want to be asked again.  It simply suggests that the proposal or the timing was not right for them.  Keep going back as long as they let you.  Donors appreciate being courted and pursued.

Never forget that donors don’t want to give to you or your organization.  They want to give to people in need.  You are a conduit or facilitator for the donor to have a ministry with those that you serve.  All solicitations (in writing or in person) should discuss how the donor will change the lives of those in need.  Through their gift and through your organization are implied.  But, ultimately it is about your donor being able to change the world with his/her generosity.

My favorite closing comedic line is, “Thank you.  You’re a great audience.  Wish I had a better act!”  I hope that I have read you, my audience, correctly and shared some things that you will find useful.


Michael Friedline
Sparrow Solutions Group, Consultant

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