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The Problem with Fundraising Communications

Posted by on March 20th, 2024
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Copywriting, Nonprofit Fundraising, Nonprofit Messaging    Tags: , , , , ,

You worked on your case statement. Check. 

You nailed down how much you need to raise. Check.

You already have ideas to grab your donors’ attention. Check.

You’re ready… Right?

Wrong.

In the last decade, the goal of greater equity has likely become the focus of countless conversations within your organization. And if it hasn’t, you’re not in step with the donors of today and tomorrow. From board meetings to community town halls, the nonprofit and education sectors and the communities they serve have been at the forefront of advancing cultural and organizational change.

And change things we have:

  • New mission statements that focus on inclusivity;
  • Overhauled programs and curriculum emphasizing equity;
  • Revised hiring and staffing to align with diversity, equity, and inclusivity commitment (DEI);
  • Shifted investments to re-prioritize programs all connect back to the recognition that business as usual will not suffice.

And then of course there are other nonprofit organizations at the vanguard of this movement. They were founded with equity in mind, and built practices steeped in equity and social justice ideals. The rest of us are just catching up to them.

And yet, why do so many of us lag in applying our equity values when it comes to fundraising communications? Why do we communicate with and cultivate donors by sending signals that are inauthentic to the ideals of equity woven into our brand, values, and mission?

Why are we unintentionally reinforcing the very injustices we exist to change?

One practice that we need to drastically improve is how we communicate to our funders and supporters. Because more often than not, we’ve trained donors to expect that the fundraising process is all about them, instead of the constituents that you’re trying to serve.

As a result, many of us continue to rely on the communications “best practices” that took us to a successful completion of our last fundraising campaign, instead of asking ourselves, how can we do better?  

Equitable fundraising communications should be reflected across your communications signals, language, and tools. Equitable communication practices include acknowledging systemic racism and other drivers of inequity; expanding collaboration with the communities you serve; using strengths-based and inclusive language; and elevating ways for people to tell their own stories.

Here are just a few examples of the problematic challenges we see in fundraising communications:

  • Turning the donor into the hero and savior. Phrases like “You make it happen.” “You have the solution.” are all too common. This approach features stories that present members of the community as victims who desperately need a donor’s help. By prioritizing the donor over the community being served, donors fail to understand the reality of the work and you deny power to those you purport to support. Our colleagues at The Community-Centric Fundraising movement have a lot more to say on this topic.
  • Legacy funds that haven’t kept up with the times. Perhaps the institutional funder is ready to make a shift in focus, but caution and fear of funding loss prevent staff from beginning a conversation with a legacy fund’s founding family. This is a huge missed opportunity to engage in innovative thinking around equity and your community’s most pressing concerns.
  • Campaigns that start with feasibility studies focused on asking donors what they will support instead of asking the community what it needs. Same goes for the quiet phases that exclude all but the wealthiest supporters. And campaigns that culminate with naming rights awarded to celebrate the donor-savior — a person who may be an honorable citizen today, but who knows what tomorrow’s news may bring (or how they built that wealth in the first place?).
  • Fundraising strategies and communications that ignore the mindsets of Millennial and Generation Z supporters. Your nonprofit status no longer grants you their unquestioning trust. They demand transparency about your organization’s values and relevance in solving urgent challenges, including racial justice and climate change. The newer generation is ready to give — are you listening to them?

Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself using some of these so-called “best practices” — they’ve been around for a long time and they can be hard to change. 

If you’re ready to learn ways to break from traditional fundraising practices and add new approaches to your fundraising communications toolbox, watch this recording of our equitable fundraising communications webinar.

I co-hosted this workshop and conversation with Rehana Abbas from the San Francisco Foundation to talk about how to solve the challenges above, and so much more. 

We examined how to authentically communicate your nonprofit, foundation, or school’s commitment to equity to your supporters. We dicussed how to shift your fundraising narrative and attract new audiences, while continuing to invite and inspire your legacy donors. 

This New Philanthropy model will help you align your fundraising with your overall organizational mission, strategy, and brand. 

All for greater impact. And a more equitable world.

See more Mission Minded upcoming events.

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Sarah R. Moore, our Director of Brand Strategy, joined Mission Minded from a career that has spanned both the private and nonprofit sector.

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