Monday, March 2, 2015

Need donors? Think like a salesman.

One of the hardest concepts for me to get across to new nonprofits that want me to get grants for them  is the concept of producing what you might call a sales pitch when approaching donors. Nine times out of ten, when I produce a grant narrative for them I get it back with the words "we need" added multiple times.

For-profit companies have no problem understanding that while their motive is to make money, they have to create a product or service with market potential and then design a sales pitch to sell it.

Nonprofits, particularly new nonprofits, don't readily make that connection between the mission and the sales pitch needed to fund it.

What makes you decide to spend money on something?  You either need it, want it or both.

If you both need it AND want it, you are far more likely to haul out the credit card or wallet and actually cough up the cash. The trick is in determining which motive is driving your potential donors, and then appealing to that motivation.

That's the somewhat over-simplified reasoning behind approaching donors for money. They have a need, specifically a need to help someone or something, and you have the product (program) that will fill that need.
Impulse buyers initially react on the spur of the moment.  They are the ones that hear or see something that strikes a chord and pick up the product (program) and head to the check-out line. For them you need an emotional component to your appeal to get their interest in the first place. I call them Heart, Head, Hand donors, because that's the way they give.
Your job at that point is to convert the impulse to a sale. If they recognize your nonprofit's name and associate it with a record of good works, your can be fairly assured they will actually write the check. If not, you need to have resources available to them that prove your legitimacy.

Investor-type donors on the other hand have their own goals, and they expect a return on their money.  In the nonprofit world, that means actually improving a condition that corresponds to the donors mission objectives. You already have a common interest, so you don't need to sell them on the mission. I call them Head to Hand donors, because their hearts are already engaged.

For them, you need to produce a package that shows that you understand their mission, that your program is compatible with that mission, and  most of all that you are in a position to produce results for that mission. It isn't enough to make general statements like "we want to help low-income children" or "give goats to every woman in Africa".

Notice that at no point have I said this is about your needs. That's not to say that you shouldn't have goals for any money you raise, but the appeal can't be about you.

People give to benefit the end users of the money. They already know that you will receive the money, but they aren't primarily interested in supporting your organization unless they are specifically interested in organizational development.

Here's the difference.

When you say "WE need money to help feed children", you break their line of sight to the end result. They want to visualize a happy well-fed child, not your new office furniture.

When you say "YOU can feed little Johnny lunch this month for just $30.00" you are making the donor responsible for little Johnny.

See the difference?

Need help with your appeal?  Drop me a line at

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