Why is fundraising so hard?
One reason: We barely give people a reason to give, much less talk about us and spread the word for us. Really. Can you imagine normal, sane humans saying any of these things?
- "You've got to hear this: I can give some amount of money and this charity will use it to research a disease and provide services for people who have the disease!"
- "Get this: When you buy your symphony tickets, you can add extra money to the cost of your tickets, and that will help cover the symphony's budget that isn't entirely covered by ticket sales!"
- "Hey, here's something exciting: You write a check for some amount, and it will go to fight the root causes of poverty -- a problem so huge that no matter how much you give, your part is microscopic."
People don't talk about us because the fundraising propositions we put in front of them are just so boring there's nothing to say. They give because they care about the causes. But there's no additional magic that might get them to tell their friends.
Compare that to what a donor might have to say about giving to DonorsChoose.org:
You search through a database of classroom needs, find one you like, then write a check. A while later, you get a package of real live thank-you notes from the kids.
Now that's remarkable. There are a number of organizations like that with remarkable offers. They're getting remarked about. And they're growing.
The rest of the nonprofit sector? Not so much.
Why does it take upstart organizations to be remarkable? The established nonprofits have to infrastructure, brains, and funding to do it -- but most don't even come close.
Are we so married to our lazy and inflexible funding models that we can't change them even though that means not growing?
Is our contempt for donors and their needs so deep that we're unwilling to meet them?
Are we so unimaginative that we just can't see doing things in a different, better way?
Are we so afraid of change that we refuse to do it?
Of course, there are signs of hope, imagination, and great thinking happening in large and small ways all over. But if I were in charge -- we'd make it fundraising priority #1 to put unremarkable fundraising behind us.
This post first appeared on May 21, 2010.