by Steve Adubato, PhD

Raising money is never easy, but it’s particularly difficult in these challenging economic times. Some people raise money professionally (something I’ve been doing for public broadcasting for over 20 years) while others do it for their local charity. But regardless of who and what you are raising money for, there are certain communication dos and don’ts that can help you succeed. Here goes.

--Too often, fundraisers go in to a meeting and communicate everything under the sun about a particular organization—when it was started, how many people it serves, how the organization has grown, etc. We consume potential contributors with reams of information, when in fact this is often the last thing they want to hear. The key to effective fundraising communication is to understand exactly who the donor is and what matters to him or her. I’m not talking about having your charity be all things to all people, but rather to understand that donors are not necessarily interested in everything your charity does. Streamline and customize your communication, be more strategic and match the donor’s interests to the work of your non-profit.

--Never forget that ultimately people make contributions to PEOPLE they like and trust. Even the greatest charity that does incredibly important work can fail because the person asking for money on behalf of that organization doesn’t connect with others. That’s the way communication works. People give to other people…not just causes. Of course what your charity does makes a huge difference, but if the donor doesn’t believe in the PERSON who is asking, he will either ignore or reject the request or, at best, make a modest contribution just to make you go away. The same thing is true in any sales situation. There are many accountants and contractors who do competent work, but ask yourself what ultimately causes you to decide to go with one professional versus another? It’s who the person is and how you feel when you’re around that person. Fundraising works the same way, because there are so many worthy causes out there competing for a finite pool of dollars.

--Don’t beg. Being persistent or communicating in a consistent fashion has its place, but telling a potential donor that “without your contribution, we are going to have to close our doors” is a terrible approach—even if it’s true. Again, ask yourself as a contributor would you want to give to a sinking ship or rather one that will effectively use your contribution to serve people in need for the foreseeable future? Communicate with a sense of confidence, even if you are worried about the future of your charity. The old expression “never let them see you sweat” still has value in such a competitive marketplace.

--Just because you got someone to contribute, don’t think your job is done. Keep communicating and connecting with your donor on a regular basis. Share information about the charity and its work. Make sure the donor knows EXACTLY how their dollars are being spent. Don’t wait for him to ask you, “Hey, what’s going on with…?” One of the biggest mistakes fundraisers make is to see their world based on the annual renewal dates of a donor’s contribution. Don’t make that mistake because the donor is likely to feel that you are taking him for granted and only communicating when you need something.

--Finally, make sure it is a two-way street. I’ve stopped giving to certain charities because the fundraiser for the organization lived on what I call a one-way street. The fundraiser asked all the time but when the time came for me to ask for her help for our charity, she never returned the call and then said she was tapped out. That’s fine, except such dismissive communication speaks volumes. Effective communication and fundraising always has to be done on a two-way street. Those that get caught going the wrong way pay a heavy price.