Usually I agree wholeheartedly with the advice proffered by Canadian fundraiser Fraser Green.

But he recently wrote this article — Donors Love 60:40 — with  which I beg to differ.

Fraser argues that donors care primarily about what you do (i.e., the need you are addressing), and very little about how you do it (which he treats a sort of institutional ‘inside baseball’). These words crystallize his point:

“When I was a young fundraiser, I learned an expression that has stayed with me to this day. It remains my most important piece of philanthropic wisdom. It goes like this: “the institution has no needs”.

That’s right. Your charity has no needs. The people or trees or animals you help have great needs. Your charity is simply the organizational vehicle that gets the donor’s gift to those in need. It’s a three link chain. The donor. Your organization. The need. In this chain, your organization is very small – while the donor and the need are very big.”

He then makes this recommendation:

“Everything you write or say to your donors should follow the 60:40 rule.Sixty per cent of what you say should be about the cause. Forty per cent of what you say should be about your organization.

Now, I accept the main thrust here. Yes, the need is uppermost in your donor’s mind. Jeff Brooks blogging in Future Fundraising Now reminds us of that in virtually every post. Got it.

But consider two further points.

First, donors are becoming far more performance-oriented. They are scrutinizing organizations much more closely on your results … and your strategies and effectiveness for achieving those results (see BayBuzz post, Fundraising Perfection). In other words, many donors do want to know how your nonprofit will meet the need they’re concerned about better than your competitor, who’s also knocking on their door. Talking about ‘how’ need not be mind-numbingly ‘institutional’; that’s merely a wordsmithing issue.

Second, I submit that for two specific types of donors, the ‘institution’ is awfully damn important — donors making bequests and donors committing to sustainer programs (i.e., monthly gifts). In both of those cases, the donor has moved beyond an immediate response triggered by perceived need, and has moved on to make an assessment about the recipient organization. They’ve decided that that specific organization is the one they trust to get the job done … even after their death in the case of a bequest. They know the need will persist; the question is … will you?!

That’s an institutional commitment. And if you’re going to try to raise that kind of money — money from genuine loyalists — you had better make sure your prospect knows why/how your nonprofit is the better bet.

That said, maybe this is a timing issue. In which case, I’d still disagree with Fraser’s 60:40 rule.

Perhaps to win that first gift, it’s all about need. In which case 90:10 (cause:organization) might be more appropriate than 60:40. But as the cultivation process moves along, make no mistake, your prospective donor begins to evaluate your organization. And your communications ‘ratio’ will need to shift to address their further questions about your effectiveness.

Other thoughts? Weigh in!


This article was posted in: Copywriting / creative, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Planned giving / legacy marketing.
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