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Does Your Fundraising Secretly Say, “Don’t Bother Giving”?

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Let’s say you go to a shoe store and find a perfect pair of shoes: comfortable, great looking, right style. You ask a clerk (“footwear specialists” they’re probably called these days) how much the shoes cost.

“You can purchase footwear for $50, $100, or $250,” he says, with no expression on his face.

“Shoes?” you ask.

He nods.

“How much will it cost to buy this pair of shoes?” you say, holding up that perfect pair.

The clerk scurries away. He can’t (or won’t) give you such intimate details. You are left wondering how a store with pricing policies like that stays in business.

That may sound like a story by Kafka, but it’s the way a lot of nonprofits sell their causes to donors: Make our work possible. Just write the check. Donors aren’t allowed to have any real connection with what they make possible.

When you do that, you give donors no connection between how much they might give and what might happen as a result of their generosity.

An effective fundraising offer connects a problem and its solution with the donor’s pocketbook. After all, if you’re a skillful communicator and you stir them to care, there are many things a donor might do beyond giving money. They could volunteer, write to their congressperson, pray, or march around with an oddly worded sign. But we are raising funds. We need to get the donor to give money.

Money is integral to the conversation. It needs to move beyond selling shoes (or “footwear solutions”) to selling specific pairs of shoes for specific prices.

I know an organization that, among many other things, provides orthopedic shoes for people with disfigured feet. These shoes cost $15 a pair, and they can transform someone’s life—dramatically improving their mobility and even their health. This is a great offer: it’s a specific amount, it “buys” something tangible, and it’s a good deal. Let’s peel that open:

  • This isn’t a wide-open offer about preventing disability or improving economic output in downtrodden communities — even though it’s part of all that. It’s shoes. You don’t have to be a development expert to understand what they are and what they can do.
  • You can take a photo of a pair of shoes. You can hold them. Everyone knows what they are. No abstract concepts here.
  • A good deal. Everyone loves a bargain. The best offers give donors “bang for the buck.” The strongest offers seem amazingly inexpensive for what they accomplish. That doesn’t mean they must be cheap: a $12 million building could transform the cultural life of a city—a bargain!

Are you serious about raising funds? Make sure you take the cost of the transformation you’re offering donors seriously. When you don’t, the message you’re really communicating is either (or both) of these:

  • Your gift doesn’t really do anything specific or important.
  • We have no idea what your gift is going to do.

Don’t let that happen to your fundraising!

(This post is excerpted from The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand by Jeff Brooks.)

What costs have you been able to take to your donors? Please share your experience by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.


  • 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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