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11 Ways to Beat the Odds and Raise a Lot of Money

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Fundraising is just hard.

Not only are you trying to persuade strangers to give you money for almost nothing in return — but you’re asking all that of people who are being asked by dozens of other fundraisers at the same time.  While they’re also being solicited by literally hundreds of commercial marketers, most of them quite good at getting attention.

You really only stand a chance if your organization is in some way what Seth Godin calls a Purple Cow — something you don’t see every day, something that makes you take notice and remark, “Hey, there’s a purple cow!”

It’s all the harder if your organization isn’t particularly remarkable:

  • If what you do doesn’t make people say “wow!” your organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If there aren’t outstanding heart and head reasons for folks to give to you, organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If you’re just like other organizations, organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If only an insiders or experts can understand the difference between your organization and others, then organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If your fundraisers are working in isolation from your front-line programs, you aren’t remarkable.

It used to be you could get away with a less than remarkable organization. Donors gave out of a sense of duty, so it was easier motivate them to give. And they had fewer choices for charitable giving than they do today.

These days, donors have easy access to all kinds of amazing causes. And Boomers, who dominate the ranks of donors, demand greatness. These hard-driving, change-the-world addicts have an attitude like this: Why should I get involved with any cause that’s less than outstanding, exciting and flat-out cool?

To meet this challenge, what you say matters less than what you do. You need to create a superior reality, not just superior marketing. And that can only happen when the entire organization — from the board on down — is in complete alignment with the goal of being remarkable.

Here are the steps your organization can take to beat the odds … be a purple cow … and raise a lot of money:

  1. Have programs that not only accomplish the mission, but also make sense to donors, put their values into action, and fill donors with a sense of connection and purpose.
  2. It’s everyone’s job to articulate the mission in a way that donors, prospective donors and third parties (like the press) can understand and love.
  3. Be demonstrably more effective than other organizations.
  4. Leverage donors’ giving in amazing ways.
  5. Connect donors to the cause. Let them see, hear and feel the difference they’re making.
  6. Know your donors. Know who they are and what they care about. And remember — they aren’t you.
  7. Find exciting and concrete ways of describing your work. Connect dollars to action. Make it clear to donors that they are changing the world through you.
  8. Keep it simple. Even if it’s complicated.
  9. Find the emotional core of your work — and don’t ever forget it. In the most human and tangible sense, what does your work accomplish?
  10. Talk to donors. Know their language, their hopes, their dreams. Be one of them.
  11. Have amazing spokespeople — famous or not, living or dead — who perfectly embody who you are and what you do.

A great fundraising organization must be great and look great to donors. That’s how you overcome the long odds that make fundraising so hard.


  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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