Three levels of belief

I had a great conversation last week with someone starting a new nonprofit who is aiming to raise $100,000 next year.

We ended up talking a lot about how to get started on this seemingly audacious fundraising goal.  Interestingly, we didn’t spend much time on the obvious  stuff – is the organization’s story compelling? what does success look like? what is the elevator pitch?   Instead, we focused on whether it is important for her to believe in the fundraising ask and the $100,000 goal.

Put another way, as the founder and fundraiser-in-chief, how important is it to believe in the story at all three of these levels: mission; fundraising ask; fundraising goal?

My answer: it’s essential.

Think of it diagramed out like this:

The trap that many nonprofits fall in to is to come at this diagram from the left, meaning you (the founder) feel:

  • A deep belief about the programmatic work
  • A lesser belief in the ask you’re making of the person you’re sitting across from
  • And vague indifference about the fundraising goal – it’s a number you’re working towards, but the quality of your conviction about this is at another level entirely.

But of course your (potential) donor is, most likely, coming at this from the right:

  • The thing that is most real to her is the funding she might or might not put into your organization (literally thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of her money…what could be more real than that?)
  • Whether she’ll be part of the broader group of funders needed to make this work possible (no one wants to be the only one)
  • And the thing that’s least real to her (at the start of your conversation at least) is the programmatic work you’re doing

The most successful fundraising conversations break down all of these barriers and (unintended) habits: the successful fundraiser successfully shares the story in a way that makes the programmatic work as real to the potential funder as it is to her; she also literally sits in the shoes of the potential funder to understand and decide together if providing philanthropic support will meet the funder’s goals.

And the successful funder puts herself in the shoes of the organization and makes every effort to understand what it needs most; and she takes steps – financial and otherwise – to help the organization reach its goals.

A deep belief, a deep conviction in the programmatic work, the ask you’re making, and the overall goal?  They’re table stakes.  Without that, you can’t start down the path.

2 thoughts on “Three levels of belief

  1. Hi Sasha, great thoughts. I work in a development office and my boss recently commented that my writing wasn’t compelling enough in a letter of inquiry to a funder. It was tough to figure out how to write in a compelling way in such a short (2-3) pages of space. But I found that it was important for me to forget about the space constraint and just write as if I were talking to someone and telling them why they should fund this project–why it would be important for them to get on board. Sometimes, when you’re fundraising you have to take yourself out of that mode of “I’m asking for money” and just think as if you were talking to someone straight out and tell them why you believe in the cause you’re fundraising for to convince them that they should to.

  2. Courney, thank you for your comment. I absolutely agree, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re writing a proposal (and have to check off all the boxes) instead of talking to another human being and telling your story.

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