What's In It For Them?

One of my guilty pleasures is reading the daily horoscope—mine, my husband’s, my kids, my grandkids. Usually I just feel silly wasting time; sometimes something strikes me as (almost) profound. The other day, my husband’s said “You may find yourself asking more often, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Just be sure to follow it up with, ‘What’s in it for them?’’ Forget about the fact that horoscopes should actually be a way to discern individual character and personality traits and help in foretelling events of a person’s life. This is great advice for anyone involved in fundraising.

“What’s in it for them?” As in, stop pitching what you need and find out what makes them tick. Stop telling them how this will make your organization strong, help you to serve more clients, enhance an already successful program. Start discussing how this gift can help the donor reach his and/or her goals.

Yes. You absolutely have to know and understand why your organization, your clients, your mission, your cause needs whatever it is you are asking for (and as you think about needs, remember operations are a need and you should consider them realistically and not set your aim too low). But to ensure that your donors feel good about their support, get more involved, and generally feel ownership of what they are doing, you must find out what is in it for them.

For some donors, what’s in it is that their name gets put up in lights—appropriately large and appropriately visible. For others, it is the joy of seeing their vision become reality. Some just care about themselves; some only care about your organization, your clients, your cause. Most care a bit about all the above. Whatever motivates and moves them—finding out is your job.

You don’t find that out by sending direct mail appeals, reaching out via social media, or talking at them about what you hope they will do. It shouldn’t need saying, but everyday I see that does: It takes a conversation and the person who should be doing most of the talking is not you.

As you begin to plan your cultivation of a donor, first consider what you know—not just about how they have interacted with you, and not just about what you think their capacity might be. Think how they like to be treated. What are the things that excite them? Who are the people they admire or respect?

Think of all the things that could impact your relationship. Are you always asking them to have lunch when they would prefer a tour of your premises or for you to come over to them for coffee or tea? Are you always bringing to big guns when they prefer and feel more comfortable with that nice program person who helps your clients so much?

The more you write down about what you know, the more you will learn about best ways to connect. And the more you will begin to understand that the gift that means so much to you and your organization also has real meaning to your donor.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com. And don’t forgot to ask about the free 30 minute consultation.