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.