How to Think Like a Higher Education Donor

Fundraising is not lecturing or preaching.  Nor is it a Vulcan mind meld – although I’m sure that’s been tried.  Fundraising is not a one-way communication through which the solicitor compels the prospective donor to act.  Fundraising—whether in higher education or a social service organization—is an on-going conversation that takes into account the higher education donor’s feelings and attitudes.  Before writing a solicitation letter, preparing a case statement or formulating a solicitation strategy, you should first put yourself in the mind of the donor.

Here are three insights to a prospective higher education donor’s feelings and attitudes:

1. Higher education giving is more emotional than rational.

  • While you need to demonstrate that your organization is well managed, stories are more effective than statistics in generating gifts.
  • Giving has been described as an act of imperfect altruism.  Donors derive personal satisfaction from aiding a good cause.

2. Donors want to know their gifts will make a difference.

  • Tell stories of how giving has helped a person or advanced an important cause in a tangible way.  Describe how a gift changed lives.
  • When describing human impact, focus on individuals, not classes of people.  Make it personal.
  • Remember, most donors don’t give to support overhead.  They want their support to go toward mission.
  • People will respond better to appeals to solve problems than appeals to meet financial goals.
  • People want their gifts, particularly planned gifts, to perpetuate their values.

3. Giving is a social activity.

  • People will respond more readily when asked by someone they know and respect.
  • People want to be regarded as members of a valued group.  Among other commonalities, that group might be defined by prominence, shared values or altruism.
  • People (particularly planned gift donors) want to leave a legacy, to be remembered after they are gone.
  • Giving can be contagious if it is stimulated by an effective leader or group action.
  • People want to express themselves.  Witness the phenomenal growth of Facebook and other social networking websites.

Recent advances in technique and technology have had a positive impact on fundraising.  But, at its heart, fundraising remains a dialogue between two human beings, the asker and the decider.  Whether the ask comes from a letter or a conversation, the decision is guided by the donor’s feelings and attitudes.  Understanding those motivations is the key to successful fundraising.

How to think Like a Donor - Rich Gross Solutions

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