How Full is Your Cup? Positive Messaging in Fundraising


By Rex Otey, PMA Director

Eternal question: is the glass half-full or half-empty?

Literally one day before we lost a friend to ALS recently, he blessed me with this insightful gift: “A glass is never half empty or half full. I count the air; so my glass is always 100% full.” It is all in the perspective; but more on that later.

After reading the good news recently about the incredible fundraising success of our university friends in the Triangle this past year I began to explore and plan a blog about why two fundraising giants (Duke, ranked #12 and North Carolina, #19 respectively out of 1001 Universities as reported by CASE, The Counsel for Support of Education) are so successful. Both are experiencing success in the wake of the Great Recession while many other colleges and universities continue to struggle.

My research led me to a fun blog post by Gail Perry comparing the very different fundraising strategies of both Duke University and the University of North Carolina. At the heart of the post, we learn that being bold and confident in your fundraising messaging is king when compared to congenial and “Southern.”

So direction was established—the blog would speak to the different styles of messaging your fundraising effort. However, reality quickly reminded me that for many nonprofits today, the issue is not whether their messaging should be pit bull versus Lassie, the issue is how do we survive?

Survive or Thrive

Though the better fundraising methodology can be debated, we cannot argue the difference between the “thrive” or “survive” approaches to solicitation. In the wake of our latest recession, nonprofits have closed their doors at a staggering pace (incidentally, equally troubling is the number of start-up organizations in the past five years; but that’s a post for another day). The real question is: would you rather direct your philanthropic dollars to an organization with a death sentence or to one with a license to thrive? Perhaps a trick question?

I’m guessing none of us want to see our favorite charity go down in flames. The fact is many nonprofits are struggling to some degree. However, to the common eye, the difference between a thriving and surviving organization may simply be in the messaging.

In a post from Abigail Harmon, “Putting a Positive Spin on your Fundraising Effort” she suggested the following approach:

Instead of: “Without your help, we will have no way of continuing all of our programming into the coming year.”

Try: “Your support, along with other valuable donors like you, ensures we can continue to provide multi-generational programming for more than 500 participants in 2010.”

See the difference?

The reality is nonprofits are struggling everywhere and many may not survive. But positive messaging could be the difference in many an organization’s survival.

Ms. Harmon goes on to say, “It’s a rather basic concept.   More and more organizations are vying for the same dollars.   Why should you give to an organization that teeters on the brink each year?  There are only so many times you want to save an organization that won’t save itself.”

So keep it positive. Your glass half full attitude and messaging may take you from barely surviving to absolute thriving. Tell me…is your glass half full or 100% full?

Rex Otey, Director

Rex Otey, Director

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Categories: Fundraising & Philanthropy

Author:pattonmcdowell

Patton McDowell & Associates is a consulting firm dedicated to helping nonprofits and charitable foundations achieve their goals. We maximize an organization’s resources and help it achieve strategic efficiency.

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  1. How Full is Your Cup? Positive Messaging in Fundraising | | Institutional Advancement | Scoop.it - May 2, 2012

    [...] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } pattonmcdowellblog.wordpress.com – Today, 2:39 [...]

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