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October 30, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Authentic in Your Fundraising?

4254377007_46be7685ff_zLately I’ve been hearing this word “authentic” a lot when it comes to fundraising.  I’ve heard it used at retreats, conferences, and presentations as if fundraisers are discussing a new concept.

I like the word, but as a fundraiser, it’s kind of disturbing, too.  So, is there “inauthentic” fundraising?

Unfortunately there is.

If you look up the word authentic you get: real or genuine: not copied or false.

And to be honest, while there is definitely “real” fundraising happening out there, there is also a lot of not-so-real stuff going on, too.  Organizations young and old, big and small, stray from their initial burst of inspiration.  Many fundraising operations are about return on investment, response rates, and cost to raise a dollar.

And all that’s fine.  We have to be efficient with donor money.  But how can we do that and have a genuine relationship with our donors?

A few things to consider:

Be straight about your need:  Do you have a case for giving that articulates the real need for the organization to exist?  Does it have a vision for the impact it wants to have on the world? Have you tested your case of key constituencies to see if you are still relevant?  Consider asking your donors to review it and see if they truly believe.

Be transparent about your operations: In this day of Guidestar and Charity Navigator, it seems like everything is out there for the public to see.  But, this type of transparency has also translated into a defensiveness about operations and administrative costs.  Don’t be sucked it.  Let your donors know what it costs to raise money, why you have administrative staff, and what “overhead” really means for you.

Ask for feedback and use it: Do you know what your donors think of your work?  Do you know if they are happy with the way you treat them as donors?  Do you regularly ask them how they want to be communicated with how they want to engage with your organization?  You can only know what your donors want by asking them.  And you can only practice authentic fundraising if you USE the information you get in this feedback to change the way you work.

Report back:  Really.  Not a glossy thank you, but a real report back.  What worked, what didn’t, and what you learned. Does every donor just want the Pollyanna version? We want to please our donors so that they give again, but what would your donors say if you sent them a “real” report as you would a true partner in a project?

Treat your donor as you would a friend: If your friend asks you to contact her by e-mail or only use her home phone, you would do it, right? That’s how all fundraising operations should be as well.  Does your database have the ability to mark people’s preferences for communication?  Do you know who has asked you to contact them just once a year and are you honoring that request?  When someone expresses an interest in knowing more, are you able to provide them with things of interest on an on-going basis?

Leave the gimmicks behind: In my mind, this is where nonprofits have the most trouble staying authentic.  There are lots of tricks the the trade, but are they true to the relationship you want to build with your donors? How many tote bags have been given out in return for a donation?  Is this a trade that is valued and honored or a way to feed the machine new donors at any cost? And what about all those petitions that get sent online or in direct mail?  Are they a real part of advocacy work or a way to “hook” donors and get them to provide contact information?

Be who you are:  But, first you’ve got to know who you are.  And I don’t mean a process where you come up with a brand that you think has the best color scheme or the sexiest graphic.  But, rather, come up with articulated values that state who you really are as an organization.  Once you have those values, don’t stray from them.  Ask yourself, are our fundraising practices consistent with our values?

In a nutshell, I think authenticity in fundraising means being straight with your donors.

What do you think? What does authentic fundraising mean to you?

photo by Paul Swansen

1 Comment

  1. Greg Wright says:

    Great reminders, Leslie! I always get something from your posts.

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