Despite the fact that fundraising is key to the success of most nonprofit organizations, individuals doing nonprofit work often struggle with how to approach the task of actually asking for donations. Many fundraisers feel fearful of seeming too “salesy,” or in other words, they worry about feeling like they are guilt-tripping people into donating to their cause. This fear prevents many incredible organizations from gaining sufficient donor support, all because their organizers and volunteers are too afraid of turning into “salespeople”.
Here’s the problem: technically, fundraisers are doing what salespeople do every day. Just like for-profit sales involves “selling a product” nonprofit work involves “promoting a cause”. Though nonprofit donors don’t usually walk away with a physical product, your job as a fundraiser is to convince them to buy into your cause. It’s sales!
Despite not wanting to seem salesy, fundraisers and nonprofit volunteers often fall into the trap of expecting donations rather than putting in the time and effort to build relationships with potential donors. Salespeople work to relate to their leads, to find common ground, and to grab their attention by offering them something they are already looking for. You don’t see salespeople grabbing people off the street, their customers come to them.
As a fundraiser, you need to be prepared to meet people where they are, rather than simply expecting them to hand over their hard-earned money to a cause just because donating to charitable causes is the right thing to do. You need to be ready to use stories and conversations to engage people in the issues, which is exactly what salespeople are doing when they talk to customers about their needs and wants in a product or service.
Back in the day, work as a fundraiser was largely about shining the light on yourself and your organization. Fundraisers were able to monologue in order to gain donations and support, but that was before people had the kind of access to information we have been afforded in the age of the Internet.
Now, people know what they want and are able to learn about the causes they care about independently of nonprofit organizations. It is no longer about you, but instead about listening to what it is your potential donors care about. Instead of saying “you should donate because”, or “our organization is incredible and therefore you should donate”, change the narrative to be more donor-centered.
Instead of a physical product, you are selling your donors assurance that their money is going to something they care about. You should be asking them which causes they care about, then tailoring your approach to appeal directly to those donors that are most likely to empathize with your cause. Basically, you need to stop going after donors who you know nothing about and start focusing on networking to connect with people who will resonate with the work being done by your organization.
The Sales Funnel for Nonprofits
The “sales funnel” is simply the name given to the order of operations/tasks required to make a sale. In the business world, there are a few schools of thought regarding how many steps there are in the funnel, but here, we’ll focus on the four that are most pertinent to nonprofit fundraising.
The first step of the “sales funnel” is to cultivate awareness for your brand or organization. This step could also be called the “leads” or the “prospecting” phase, since it is all about finding those potential donors. Here is where we see many old-school nonprofits fall short, since their awareness/prospecting phase usually involves more broadcasting than networking.
In order to find donors that will not only donate once but will become permanent supporters of your organization, it is important to dedicate the awareness phase to connecting with people who share a common interest in causes you support.
Once you have generated leads, the next step is to follow-up and to build a relationship with prospective donors. Like salespeople talk to their leads about their specific needs in a product or service, fundraisers talk to their donors about how they can secure their donation. This phase is all about taking the interest you piqued at the first meeting and converting it into an intent to engage.
In the nonprofit sector, this phase might more accurately be described as the “asking” phase, since this period is all about getting down to the nitty-gritty and actively asking prospects if they will be willing to commit to making a donation. In sales, this phase is where the salesperson offers the final price and waits for the customer to decide.
At this point, you’ll already have built a solid relationship with your prospective donors, so asking for donations won’t feel like you are pressuring or goading anyone into doing something they don’t want to do. Like in sales, the transaction is mutually beneficial, so practice asking for donations with confidence.
In business, the final step of the sales funnel is “sale”, but because nonprofit “sales” are about creating long-term donor relationships, stewardship is a far more appropriate descriptor. Once your donor has made their first contribution, your final step is to maintain a relationship and an open dialogue to encourage them to donate again in the future.
If you enjoyed this guide, and want to learn more about fundraising and building relationships with donors, visit Blackbird Philanthropy Advisors and check out our blog.
Blackbird Philanthropy Advisors is a social enterprise devoted to Driving impactful and innovative change through philanthropy. Based in South Bend, Indiana, USA.