Nine Ways to Beat Burnout Even This Year

Nine Ways to Beat Burnout, Even This Year

If you’ve been through a pregnancy — even if only via a partner or family member who was pregnant — you know just how long nine months can be.

It’s a taste of eternity.

And not the good kind.

So when I note that most of us have been in pandemic for nine months now, that pretty much explains how we’re feeling.

“Okay,” we’re thinking, “this can end any moment now. Please?”

For many of us, we’ve gone through all kinds of stages of adjusting to the crisis. Full of energy at first, then fading and losing that sense of purpose.

The nonprofit space is well-known for being under-staffed and often poorly managed. That’s why many of us — maybe including you — are now facing burnout.

And it’s rough.

Many people throw around the term burnout a bit too easily.  “I’m burned out,” often means, “I’m stressed out.”

Stress and burnout are closely related to each other. Being stressed over time can lead to burnout.

But the difference between being stressed and being burned out: When you’re stressed out, you can imagine feeling better. You can picture a state where you get things under control and get back to a more comfortable state. Stress is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of life. It comes and goes.

When you’re burned out, you are beyond that hopefulness. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. You feel mentally exhausted. Empty. You have no motivation, and you can’t make yourself care. You become less able to take care of yourself or others. You almost don’t feel like yourself.

Burnout is not “normal.”

It’s somewhat like being depressed. It’s really a kind of emergency that you need to deal with right away if you’re facing it.

So if you are feeling stress, and you’re worried you may be approaching burnout (or already there) here’s your first step: Talk to someone. A professional if possible, or a wise and helpful person in your life. Do your best to determine whether you’re burned out or stressed and on your way to burnout.

If it’s burnout, take action now.

Drastically change things, now. Stop working for a while. Get help.

Basically, your emotional house is on fire. You cannot ignore it!

If you aren’t there yet, get serious about preventing burnout. It’s much easier to prevent it than to get out of it.

Here are some things you should do:

Look at your work situation

Do you put in a ridiculous number of hours week after week without relief?  We can all handle major surges of work. It can even be energizing. But when abnormal becomes normal, you’re heading for trouble.

Beyond overwork, the other thing that can get you is a bad work environment. If you feel unappreciated, under-compensated, consistently doing things above or below your skill-set, always putting out fires, in a highly political or fear-based environment … you are heading toward burnout.

I realize that previous sentence is pretty much the official job description for many fundraising jobs. That’s a real problem, and we as an industry need to change that. But the urgent thing for now is this: you need to change it for yourself. You may need to leave that job, because it is basically killing you. And you’re not doing anyone a favor if you’re getting killed by a crappy work environment.

Here are nine things you need to be aware of to prevent burnout and keep yourself healthy, productive, and at top performance”

1. Boundaries

Discover the power of the word “no.” Your service mentality is commendable, but you have to have limits. Have times and days when you don’t work and don’t answer email. Remember, when you don’t have boundaries, you are in danger of crashing — and you’ll be no help to anyone if that happens!

2. Sleep

Give yourself the time you need to sleep. It’s probably seven to nine hours. It’s important!

3. Exercise

Physical activity can make all the difference, and most of all when you feel too busy to take the time. Try to walk, run, or ride a bike every day — or find some other way to exercise.

4. Food

Fast food has only one advantage: Speed. That’s why we often default to unhealthy eating in busy times. Make sure you’re eating well, especially plenty of fruit, vegetables, and nuts.

5. Meditation

There are a lot of ways to meditate, and there’s no “perfect” way. Just do it. If you follow a faith tradition, you most likely have a practice that is meditation, even if it’s called something else. Giving yourself time to meditate, even just a few minutes a day, can be transformative and pay back big time in energy and quality of life.

6. Relaxation

Unstructured, “doing nothing” time is also critical. That means reading, walking, even just sitting around. Make sure you have some time every day set aside for doing nothing. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen!

7. Talk about it

Being open and honest about the stress you face and the danger of burnout really helps you combat it. Make sure you have trusted friends, colleagues, family members, or others you can talk with. Chances are, they are in the same situation as you, so you’ll be helping others.

8. Technology breaks

Put the damn phone down! The convenience of always-on technology comes at a price. Try to spend at least an hour of the day when you aren’t looking at any screens.

9. Creativity

Find some kind of activity that fills your soul and gives you joy. Writing, drawing, photography, making music. These things refill your tank and give you energy. This is especially important if you don’t get fulfilment from your day-to-day work.

The important thing is this: You have to take care of yourself. You owe that to yourself — but also to the people around you, including your employer. It’s not easy, it doesn’t come naturally to many of us … but it’s necessary!

Share your experience with stress and/or burnout in the comments below, or at one of our Facebook communities: The Fundraisingology Lab (members only) or The Smart Fundraisers’ Forum (open community).

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CFRE Points:
Book view orbit

BOOK REVIEW: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

orbiting the giant hairball coverI read a lot of books that are meant to make me better at my work. You probably do too. Every fundraising book I can get my hands on. Lots of books about marketing and other forms of persuasion that can bring new ideas into fundraising. Books about strategy and thinking that just make me smarter and more effective. Books about dealing effectively with other people.

I devour them all. Hundreds of books. Many of them are simply amazing. Some of them not so much.

So when I tell you there’s one book of all those that I really, really hope you’ll read, please understand that I’m telling you something I think is a very big deal.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is the one book that has really transformed my professional life. It’s the “business” book I most often recommend to people.

It’s not about fundraising. It’s not about any particular business at all. It’s about being your best in a “corporate” environment. And for the purposes of this book, nonprofits can be among the most in-the-box, anti-creative types of corporate environment in existence.

You know that in order to succeed at this crazy, fuzzy profession of fundraising, you have to be creative, passionate, and amazing all the time. But you work in an organization that is ruled by procedures and bureaucracy — and it often feels like a strangling mass of hair.

That’s the hairball of the title.

When you read this book, you’ll see how to escape the hairball — and appreciate that it has a necessary function. You’ll discover the balance that will give you the freedom and confidence to be the creative problem-solver you want to be — and that your organization needs you to be.

Let me summarize that balance.

Most of us are able to make a positive impact because we are part of a community — an organization. Even those who are “self-employed” don’t work alone, really. Everyone works within organizations.

And that means hairball. Every organization has one — a mass of policies, procedures, rules, and bureaucracy. Those things, by their very nature, strangle creativity, innovation, exploration, and bold thinking.

Some hairballs are worse than others — bigger, messier, more strangling — but there’s no such thing as a hairball-free organization. The weird thing about the hairball is that it’s necessary. If there were no hairball, there would be no organization.

You need the hairball.

But you also need to be free from the hairball.

If you let yourself be trapped in the hairball, you will waste all your time and energy on trivial, bureaucratic BS. You won’t accomplish much that matters. On the other hand, if you completely escape the hairball, you are no longer part of a community that puts your greatness into action.

The solution is to “orbit” the hairball. Stay just within its gravitational force — close enough to share the corporate goals and direction, but just far enough out of it to avoid getting tangled up.

That’s what the book is about. It’s a practical, inspiring, cheerleading handbook on finding the balance where you aren’t tangled in hairball, but you aren’t floating by yourself in empty space.

The book is full of inspiring examples of orbiters and hints for how to orbit. It has helped me solve more conundrums and deal with more frustrations than anything else I’ve read. Through the years, it gave me and my orbiting colleagues a vocabulary for plotting our escape from the hairball — while appreciating what it offered us. Like, you know, salaries and benefits and shared purpose.

It also points out that each of us has a hairball inside our own heads. And talks about how we orbit even that hairball:

So many books and workshops that promise to increase our capacity for creativity fail to deliver because they prescribe removing the left twin’s censoring hand through rational means. That won’t work. To take a rational approach to halting the left twin’s silencing of the right twin is to play directly into his strength, which is rational thinking. And you cannot beat him at his own game. Ultimately, the only effective way to remove his inhibiting hand is through transrational thinking.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is not a “normal” book. It’s filled with sketchy drawings and weird design. Some of it is handwritten. It looks messy. (There’s one chapter, titled “Orville Wright” that is just one 8-word sentence long. But it’s a sentence that packs a wallop.)

You probably know people who will hate it at first sight, because it looks so strange. Maybe you will hate it. Until you read it.

This book just might change your professional life, the way it has mine. I highly recommend it.

One of the duties of a true Orbiter is to equip yourself with knowledge so your creativity can soar. The best way to do that is to pursue quality fundraising training and advice — and by belonging to a community of fundraisers who share knowledge and connection. That’s what you’ll get when you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a true community, the thing we all need most right now — plus all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Man singing

All You Need Is Love: Nearly Everything I Know about Fundraising I Learned from the Beatles

One of the great things about fundraising is you can find the information and inspiration you need just about anywhere.

I’ve found a treasury of fundraising wisdom in the work of the Beatles …

When I’m Sixty-Four

By a wide margin, donors are older people. Get used to it. Treasure them. Too many nonprofits waste too much energy trying to activate a new generation of young donors. Our culture may be fixated on youth, but when it comes to fundraising, the smart money is on older people.

Can’t Buy Me Love

If you think you can buy donors, think again. Yeah, it takes investment, and you’d better be tracking the numbers, but fundraising is about passion, relationship, connection — and love. Never forget that.

Act Naturally

The best fundraising “tactic” is to act (and write) like a normal human being. Act naturally, and you’ll stand out in the crowd of others who are writing either like soulless robots or self-conscious poets — or an unholy combination of both.

Cry Baby Cry

If you really want to motivate people to give, you’d better get emotional. If you can’t make readers cry, you’ll always struggle to make them respond.


If you need help, ask for it. Cry for it! Don’t pretend your organization can go it alone. Fundraising works best when you humble yourself before your donors and say “help!”

With a Little Help from My Friends

You can’t make it without your donors. Don’t forget that — and don’t let them forget, either. Make sure you and they always understand how necessary they are to your cause.

Please Mr Postman

If you use direct mail, get friendly with the Postal Service. Learn their strange ways. Speak their language. It can save you a lot of trouble and money.

PS I love you

Did you know that the most-read part of a direct mail letter is the PS? That’s why you should never omit it, and why it should say whatever is the most important thing you have to say.

Thank You Girl

One of the most important parts of fundraising is thanking. When you thank a donor, you complete the circle. When you don’t, you’re like a mail-order company that doesn’t send what people pay for.

All Together Now

Donors are more likely to respond when they see that others are responding. Social proof is a powerful motivator. Don’t tell donors, “We need you because nobody else is responding” — that’s a reason not to donate. Show them that others care too. We’re in this together!

Getting Better

Tell your donors that their giving is actually making things better! They hear from every side that the world is getting worse and worse all the time … that their donations don’t make a difference. Tell them the truth: Their giving is making things better.

Here Comes the Sun

Donating is an act of hope. Feed that hope! Let them know that their giving makes the change they want to see happen.

I Call Your Name

If you know a donor’s name, use it. One’s own name is the most motivational word there is.

Related posts:

Learn more about fundraising with the support of an inspiring online community at The Fundraisingology Lab. Find out more here!


CFRE Points:
Pop Art Mail with Wings

26 Tips for More Effective Fundraising Writing

1. Write the call to action (the reply device or landing page) first

It’s very un-Zen to say it, but fundraising is more about the destination than the journey. You’re going to arrive a lot more successfully when you know exactly where you’re going.

2. Write the thank-you letter next

I find it very helpful to express thanks before fully expressing the ask. As in tip #1, it can clarify where you’re going.

3. Think of 25 reasons why a donor should give to you

Then, get rid of all the reasons that are some version of “because we/our processes/our values/our staff are awesome.” Then start over until you have 25 donor reasons a donor should give to you.

4. Ask yourself, “How would the trashy tabloid press write this?”

Low-brow publications know the value of the amazing, the lurid, the outrageous, the unexpected — because they live or die by impulse purchases. Same with click-bait websites. Are you doing that, or are you imitating “respectable” journalism, purposely keeping it as colorless and purely factual as possible? Guess which approach gets more readership — and raises more funds?

5. Ignore your brand guidelines

Your brand guidelines are meant to sharpen and define your message and make it consistent. But there’s usually a fatal flaw: The guidelines are all about you, not about your donors. They’re all about self-focused communication, and that will hurt your fundraising. There are pro-fundraising brand guidelines out there (I’ve seen a couple of them) … but they are truly rare.

6. Show, don’t tell

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ve heard this. It’s good advice. It’s easy to assert that something is sad, or great, or special, or cutting-edge. It’s more persuasive to paint the picture that add up to those things.

7. Overdo it

Be too dramatic. Too emotional. Too strong. Eight times out of 10, you’ll realize later that you didn’t overdo it at all. The other two times — well, it’s much easier to tone it down than it is to pump up weak and underdone writing.

8. Use your data

You know quite a bit about the people you’re writing to — their names, their cities, what and when they’ve given, and more. Use these facts to make your copy more personal and relevant. Just make sure you don’t sound awkward and robotic.

9. Flunk your English teachers

Your teachers meant well and they probably taught you many useful things. But not everything they taught was useful, especially for fundraising. Paragraphs don’t have to start with topic sentences and be complete units of meaning. Passive voice is not all that bad. Neither are sentence fragments. (Read the confessions of a former English teacher: How to Write Like a Nonprofit Genius and Motivate People to Join Your Cause)

10. Write at low grade level

Keep your writing at around 6th Grade reading level. It’s just easier to read. Don’t worry about “talking down” to your donors — grade level is about ease of reading, not education. The easier it is to read, the more it will get read — and the more you’ll raise. Check your readability with the grammar-check function in Word or try the excellent Hemingway App.

11. Repeat yourself

Whatever it is that you want people to do, tell them that thing again and again and again. Repeat yourself because you don’t know if they understood or even noticed it the first and second times. Repeat yourself because hardly anyone starts at the beginning of your message and reads every word straight through to the end. Repeat yourself because it works!

12. Annoy yourself

You are not your donor. That’s one of the most important truths you can know, and it has a dramatic side effect: Messages that motivate donors very often will turn you off. It will seem simplistic, emotional, and repetitive. Sometimes it helps to make your own distaste a barometer for effective fundraising.

13. Use a cliché or two

There’s a reason clichés catch on. They express things that people often want to express — in short (and sweet) ways that are easy (as pie) to remember. Fundraising isn’t creative writing class — you aren’t going to lose points for lack of originality. However, you will get extra credit for motivating more people to give.

14. Cut back on adjectives and adverbs

If your nouns and verbs aren’t doing the job, adjectives and adverbs aren’t going to pick up the slack. Well-placed modifiers can add zing. But most of the time, they just make the copy harder to read — and make you sound like a huckster.

15. Avoid huge numbers

Donors don’t want to solve a problem because it’s big. They want to solve it because it’s solvable. Yes, many thousands of children die from hunger-related causes every day, and thousands are diagnosed with terrible diseases, and the glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. It’s mind-boggling. The fact that it’s mind-boggling is exactly why it’s poor fundraising. Give donors the opportunity to make a difference that they can grasp and afford — and then another and another.

16. Free yourself from grammar

Don’t deliberately make bonehead grammar errors. But sometimes getting your grammar precisely correct makes you come across as a schoolmarm, which — unless you’re an actual schoolmarm — is pretty unsympathetic. For instance, correct use of “whom” doesn’t sound natural to most people. Avoid it. If you can’t stomach doing it wrong, revise the sentence so it doesn’t come up. Any correct grammar that people don’t commonly use in speech is a candidate for flouting or revising around.

17. Replace at least one paragraph in your next fundraising project that’s about you

Replace it with a paragraph that’s about your donor. This will make your message a bit more engaging and persuasive. Keep doing this!

18. Limit your paragraphs to 6 lines

Long paragraphs are forbidden territory. Anything more than seven lines is long. Most paragraphs should be one to four lines.

19. Read everything you write out loud

This is one of the best ways to make sure your copy is clear, colloquial, and easy to read. If you stumble while reading, sound pompous or arrogant, or just sound a bit incoherent, your copy needs more work.

20. Cut your first paragraph

No joke. It’s like magic. Most likely, your first paragraph is a warm-up — and your real lead is your second or even third paragraph. Give it a try. It’s one of the quickest and most sure-fire copy revisions I know.

21. Make the message longer

I know you wouldn’t read a long letter. Neither would I. For all we know, nobody reads long letters anymore. But we do know long letters work. Nearly every time I’ve tested, longer letters worked better than shorter ones. (A major exception is when you’re raising funds for a major emergency that’s heavily in the media.) Add more pages to your letter — or let that email be long, and you’ll almost surely get more response. See The Most Controversial Non-Controversy in the Fundraising World

22. Use photos sparingly — but use them

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So choose photos carefully. Too often we use photos that add nothing to the message or even contradict the story we intend to tell. If the photo and the words are in conflict, guess which one will carry more persuasive weight? Make sure the photos you use support the message you want to get across.

23. Underline stuff

Emphasis and variation are great for readability. So underline key points. Also use bold, italics, and other ways to draw the eye. Just don’t overdo it, because too much emphasis is the same as no emphasis at all.

24. Use black serif type over a white background (in print)

Any variation from this — using sans-serif type, colored type, white type over color, even black type over a tint, — will meaningfully degrade the reading comprehension of your donors and hurt response. (It’s worth noting that sans-serif fonts are more readable on screens.)

25. Use 13-point type (or larger) for body copy

Your donors wear bifocals. Small type is hard for them to read. Would you rather be part of their daily struggle to read small type or a strain-free oasis in their day? Which choice do you think will make them more likely to respond?

26. Bypass most of your reviewers

Committees kill fundraising. They systematically drain life and power from anything they touch, while bulking up the message with irrelevancies and worse. It’s not that they’re trying to make it worse — that’s just what committees do. Work without committees, and you’ll see improvements — to your copy and your revenue. See How To Free Your Fundraising From The Destructive Power Of Committees

Get ongoing great advice for powerful fundraising writing by joining The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Adventure e1542586243367

Effective Fundraising Is Always a “Choose Your Own Adventure” Story

Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? They are kid-fiction adventures that originated in the late 70s. Each book is narrated in the second person — you — and offers periodic decision points for the reader. It goes something like this:

  • If you decide to explore the cave, turn to page 52.
  • If you decide to walk away, turn to page 65.

The reader chooses. Your choice leads to a different outcome of the story. It’s a more active form of reading than normal books.

Fundraising should be like that. A way for each donor to participate — to make choices that matter.

Fundraising should actually be way better. Because it’s real, not fiction. When a donor decides to give, she not only feels the joy of giving … she actually helps change the world!

A fundraising message structured like a Choose Your Own might go something like this:

Something is wrong in the world. It’s wrong in a way that breaks your heart. It’s very clearly wrong, and it urgently needs to be fixed, and the way to help fix it is to send a donation.

  • If you decide to send a donation, turn to page 52.
  • If you decide not to send a donation, turn to page 65.

What happens if a donor decides to give and turn to page 52?

They get a warm glow as their brain confirms to them that helping others is the right thing to do. They quickly get a thank you message that specifically tells them what their money is on its way to do. Later on, they get more information proving to them that their gift really did make a difference! It’s almost as if you decided to explore the cave in the Choose Your Own book and then found a real-life chest of treasure!

What happens if the donor decides not to give and turns to page 65?

Not much. Story over. She’ll have other chances.

That’s the beauty of it. Every donor always has the right to say no when giving isn’t the right option for them.

But this is why fundraising is so amazing. It’s not just hypothetical outcomes. It’s a reality. What donors choose to do has an actual impact on the real world.

Sadly, you wouldn’t know that by reading most fundraising. It doesn’t set up that moment of decision. It doesn’t give the donors the chance to do something thrilling — or not do it, if they choose not to.

Instead, most fundraising is like this:

We are an awesome organization. We do awesome, important things. We’re very good at what we do. You can help fund our awesomeness by donating.

  • If you decide to send a donation, turn to page 52.
  • If you decide not to send a donation, turn to page 52 because the same things will happen either way!

In this telling, the awesomeness doesn’t depend on the donor. She can support it or not — but it makes no difference.

Charitable giving should be about action, change, progress, and relationship.

Does your fundraising create clear choices like Choose Your Own Adventure books? It should. And it can!

Want to know some specific ways to make your fundraising like a super-thrilling Choose Your Own Adventure? Check out our popular online course, Your Blueprint for Donor-Focused, High-Revenue Fundraising Storytelling. It’s available when you join The Fundrasingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Banana e1536135982303
Direct Mail

Bananas and Direct Mail Fundraising: 3 Easy Improvements

I bet you didn’t know there’s another way to peel a banana.

Not just another way, but a far better way that’s easier, less messy, and leaves you with more yummy banana to eat.

How often do we get to have easier and better at the same time?

I’m serious. When you watch this video, your banana consumption will be transformed.

I’ll show you two other easier/better things you can do in your direct mail fundraising too. Each of them almost as amazing as the banana trick!

Don’t miss it!

Want more amazing “tricks” for your direct mail fundraising? Check out my online course, 7 Steps to Record-Smashing Direct Mail. It is available for all members of The Fundrasingology Lab. They aren’t all as easy as the banana trick — but they’re at least that amazing, and will give you record results this year!

CFRE Points:
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The Beauty of Ugly Fundraising

How many times have you heard people complain about fundraising — especially direct mail:  It’s so ugly!

In fact, you’ll often hear the hypothesis that if it weren’t ugly, it would work a lot better. As if the problem is one of skill or talent — as if somehow we have trouble finding designers with actual design skills to do our direct mail.

For organizations working from that assumption, life is destined to be hard.

Because here’s the reality:  In fundraising, ugly works.

Ugly is in the eye of the beholder, so let me give you my definition of “ugly” fundraising:

  • Clunky, not elegant. Visually interruptive, too many words, harsh images.
  • Homemade-looking, not professional. As if someone with a typewriter and some glue did it.
  • Old fashioned, not cutting-edge. The way stuff looked in your parents’ or grandparents’ time.
  • Loud, not understated. Plenty of strong colors, often clashing with each other. Too-big fonts.

It’s not esthetically pleasing, artistic, or likely to get good marks in design school. It’s likely to give your colleagues (especially the younger ones) conniption fits. They will hate it!

But if you want to maximize your results, you need to get used to ugly fundraising.

There are three very important things to know about this ugly design:

  1. Calling it ugly is kind of crazy. How can you call something ugly that reaches more donors, helps them care more deeply — and raises more money for causes that make the world a better place.
  2. The type of ugliness that does the job is not the product of a crappy designer. In fact, it takes a lot more skill to make something readable and emotional within the tight constraints of “ugly.” If you can find a designer who embraces that truth, you have a real treasure.
  3. You don’t raise a of money just by doing ugly fundraising. Ugly is not the active ingredient of fundraising, just a vehicle for it. What makes fundraising work is having a strong offer, compelling copy, specificity, emotion — all the basics. Get all that right, and make it “ugly.” You’ll do better than you would if you got it all right and made it pretty.

So the real question is, why do we call it “ugly”? It’s a design approach that helps bring about so much good in the world. In my book, that sounds much more like a definition of “beautiful.”

One of the most important milestones in the life of a fundraising professional is when you learn to accept and embrace “ugly.” That’s when you stop clumsily aiming your messages at yourself and start doing real fundraising.

Want to know more ways to make your fundraising even more effective? Take my Moceanic online course, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. It is available inside The Fundraisingology Lab and it will help you take your fundraising to a whole new level — guaranteed! (Yes, guaranteed, as in you get your money back if it doesn’t help you seriously improve your fundraising results!)

CFRE Points:
Your donors are not robots
Donor Psychology

VIDEO: Adrian Sargeant Reveals How Fundraising Meets Human Needs

Professor Adrian Sargeant of The Philanthropy Centre describes research into some of the human needs that charitable giving can help people meet:

  • Connectedness
  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Growth
  • Purpose in Life
  • Self-acceptance

When fundraisers aim their strategy and messaging at these fundamental needs that all donors have, they can meaningfully improve results.

See how this can work for you. Don’t miss the powerful examples Prof. Sargeant shares!

Have you aimed your fundraising at meeting your donors’ human needs? Please share your experience by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

CFRE Points:
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VIDEO: Does Fundraising Make You Feel Like a Used Car Salesman? GOOD!

Fundraising professional, meet Crazy Eddie.

You probably aren’t going to like him. He’s loud and obnoxious. I mean, really REALLY LOUD and OBNOXIOUS.

But Crazy Eddie can teach us fundraisers a thing or two, especially when it comes to that “used car salesman” feeling we sometimes get when we do strong (meaning effective) fundraising.

This came up the other day over in the Moceanic Fundraisingology Lab (a Facebook community that’s open only to people who have taken a Moceanic online course or coaching). One of our community members noted that something she’d learned from Tom Ahern’s Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter course made her feel like a used car salesman. That got an interesting conversation going.

I thought you’d like to get a taste of what we’re learning from those darned used car salesmen that we don’t want to be like.

I think you’ll find it helpful!

Do you sometimes feel like a used car salesman? How do you deal with it? Please share your experience by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Surprised woman banknote hundred dollars e1528105619960

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

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.

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