What Does Our Nonprofit Do?

I was sent this fabulous blog  about the difference between for profit and not for profit organizations. I’m not going to repeat was said—just read it yourself. What I do want to write about, however, is one difference the author didn’t mention: the conundrum of what a nonprofit does. For profit companies don’t seem to have this problem. They know they make this, sell that—and charge enough to cover their costs. Or get enough venture capital if they don’t.

We, on the other hand, seem to have a really hard time understanding what we do. I know that because so many of my clients and students tell me: “I can’t fundraise—I don’t know what I’m raising funds for.”

I find that mystical. All nonprofits have a mission. While the mission statement may not be clear, the mission—the things they do—usually are. So we feed people, provide housing, educate, or take care of ill people. We advocate for the environment, save dogs and cats, try to save historic buildings.

What is so hard about this?

I think it starts because too many fundraisers think they have to pitch a product—like a for profit—to a donor. But pitching is not what we should be doing. We should be talking with our donors, about what our organizations do and what that means to them.

And that means listening instead of talking; conversing rather than pitching.

So I begin by telling my prospect that our organization does an amazing job of helping older women get training so they can enter the workforce. My prospect tell mw how her mother had been a stay-at-home mom, but when she was 47, her husband died and she had to go out and find work—and I have just made a terrific connection. Far better than I could have if I had told the prospect about the 14 workshops we have, the resume development program, the interview strategy classes. I let my prospects respond to why our work might interest her.

Or she might have said to me, “I find that many of the older women who apply for jobs at my company can’t explain to us how their life-skills could help the company. I think we don’t hire a lot of good women.”

And then I can tell her a bit about the workshops we offer.

But—and this is both important and true—people tend to make charitable gifts because of emotion. Not the emotion that a heart-wrenching story evokes—though yes, that might get a gift. But sustainable giving comes because what your organization accomplishes—as opposed to just what it does—speaks to that person. In order for that person to feel that emotion, you have to know what matters to her. And then you have to show her how the work your organization does fits in with her values, her concerns, and helps to solve issues that mean something to her.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and to build stronger, more committed boards. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com. And email her to ask for a free 30-minute consultation.