What Your Donors Are Starving For

Recent headlines in the Chronicle of Philanthropy have taken a decidedly dour turn. Your annual performance review didn’t go well so you’re down in the dumps. And honestly, there’s not much positive news in our world at the moment.

For fundraising professionals, a consistent focus on what’s wrong is bad medicine. Consider this:

The ballroom was packed. The chairman stepped up to the podium, took a look around and said, “Rather than speak to you tonight, I want you to hear the words that inspire me every day.”

The lights dimmed. The crowd murmured. Faintly, then louder and louder were the sounds of an orchestra and Frank Sinatra singing. On two giant screens to accompany the song were photos of teachers working with students, coaches and their teams, alumni meeting their scholarship recipients, and volunteers at the Phonathon.

The song Sinatra was singing? “Here’s to the Winners.” It lasted two and a half minutes. There was not a dry eye in the house. The entire room jumped to their feet and cheered.

There was nothing left to be said. “Here’s to the winners all of us can be.”

The phone rang. Phil was calling. As always, he got right to the point. “So how’s it going?”

“Phil,” I told him, “it’s going great!”

“You son of a gun,” he said in mild exasperation, “Every time I call you tell me the exact same thing – it’s going great.”

Somehow I was inspired to answer,

“Phil, if I don’t tell you things are great at your alma mater, who’s going to?”

Silence. “You know what, my friend?” he said, “You’re right.”

That’s what our donors want to hear. They want to hear it’s going great. They want to jump to their feet and cheer. They want their association with our organizations to make them happy.

They don’t want to hear about our problems. Or our struggles. They have plenty of their own. Donors want to hear about our successes, our victories, and how their gifts made them happen.

Every donor I know wants to be associated with a winner. The tricky part is that “being a winner” is something the donor perceives about us. It’s not something we can “do,” like making an ask or sending a letter.

What makes you a “winner” to your donor? I think it boils down to four things.

Look like a winner. Stand up straight. Smile when you say hello. Take pride in your personal appearance. Does your building shine? Is the lobby welcoming? Does your communication, down to every single thing the donor receives, reflect how you want to be perceived? None of this is expensive. It just takes a little care and effort. Being “classy” is not the same as “gaudy” or “expensive.”

Think like your donors. They are desperate to feel appreciated. By anyone! Give it to them! Make your donors feel so genuinely appreciated that they want to be with you more than with your competition.

Share the success. Every single day, look for the good in your organization and find someone to share it with. Think of organizations you perceive as winners. Why do you think that way about them? It’s because of good news or success you’re heard from them recently. Your pride and enthusiasm in your organization is a “drug” to your donors and they want some of it!

And finally, live “quiet confidence.” When I told Phil things were going great, it wasn’t just what I said but how I said it. Every great fundraiser I know lives quiet confidence. Not cocky, not even close to that. A quiet confidence in themselves, in the message they have to share, in the organization they represent.

Here’s to the winners all of us can be.

(excerpted from Winning: The Five Truths of Fundraising)