You worked so hard on that letter.

You wrote and rewrote. Your coworkers and Board members all looked at it.

You’ve made so many rounds of changes and tweaks that you’re just SURE it’s a winner.

So you send it out and wait.

And wait.

Donations start to trickle in, but nothing like what you had hoped for or what you need.

What went wrong?

I see it all the time.

Your nonprofit does good work. You’re changing lives for the better.

Yet somehow when you try to tell people about it, you don’t get the reaction you’re looking for.

The problem?

You’re being self centered.


Being self centered in fundraising

Being self centered in fundraising means you’re spending too much time talking about your organization.  It’s all about your programs, your budget, your needs.

Donors don’t care.

They don’t care about your need to keep the lights on or the staff paid.

When you ask them to support things they don’t care about, they don’t give.

So you have to take a broader approach and ask them to help you change lives, not to support your annual fund.


How it happens

I bet you don’t mean to be self centered.

You live and breathe your nonprofit every day, and because you’re likely working too fast, you just do what you think is best.

It’s time to stop that. Stop working out of habit. Stop working without thinking.

It’s time to be strategic and think about the best way to connect with donors.


How to stop being self centered

Think. What does your donor or prospect need to hear or see or feel to be moved to make a gift?

Hint: It’s not about your annual fund. It’s not about your need to keep the lights on or pay the staff.

That’s not what lights a donor up.

What DOES light them up?

Simple: Changing lives.

They want to be part of something that’s making a difference in this world.

Think about it: where else can someone change another life for the better just by writing a check or clicking the ‘donate now’ button?


Here are a few samples just to get you thinking.

Self centered language Donor centered language
Our organization has been around for 25 years, providing over 1,000 people a year with life-changing healthcare services. We help people who are struggling with healthcare to get the care they need so they don’t have to worry about being sick and missing work.
We serve over 10,000 people in our 16 programs in 12 counties. No matter where someone is in the greater Smallville area, there’s a clinic nearby where they can get the care they desperately need.
We thank you for your past support and hope you’ll support our annual fund. With your help, we can continue to make sure that everyone who needs healthcare services gets it. Together, we’re taking one problem off the plate of those who are facing difficult times.



Answer these 4 questions before you ask

Next time you need to write an nonprofit fundraising appeal or a newsletter or a social media post, answer these 4 questions:

1.  What action you want them to take? This may seem really obvious, but think it through. Do you want them to make a donation? How much? Are you going to ask every donor to make the same donation, or do you need to segment the list so you can ask your bigger donors for more? The more clear you can be about what you want them to do, the more likely you’ll be to get what you want.

2. What will move their heart? Giving is an emotional act. People decide to give with their heart then justify it with their head. So, what can you share that will compel them to get out their checkbook? A good story with plenty of emotion is usually all it takes. Use words and photos if possible to paint the picture, and help them understand the transformation your clients experience.

3. What will make them take action NOW? These days, people are inundated with messages, and we’ve all gotten really good at tuning things out. So you can’t just ask for a donation without giving people a really good reason to give and to give now. Create a sense of urgency. What will happen if you don’t raise the money you’re looking for? Will you have to establish a waiting list? Will people suffer? Is it life and death? Share that.

4. How can you make them the Hero? People love to feel good and know that they made a difference. Explain how their donation will make a difference. If you can tell them exactly what their gift will do, then do it. Give them an idea of how they will change a life with their donation.


Here’s one thing to watch out for. People often say to me “Our cause isn’t sexy. We’re not like the animal shelter. We don’t have kittens and puppies.” I think they’re trying to tell me their cause isn’t as good as another one.

You MUST FIND the sex appeal in your mission and be able to communicate it. If you can’t identify it, no one else will be able to either.

And you know what? It’s KEY to a donor-centered ask. Stay focused on what your nonprofit does that makes a difference and you’ll stop being self centered.

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