When I meet people who work at nonprofits—and, as a nonprofit consultant, most of the people I meet work at nonprofits—they generally describe their organizations by telling me about their programming and giving me a blow-by-blow account of what happens when a client walks through their doors.  At least, I think that’s what they do, because honestly, like most of your prospects and donors, I don’t care about the way you accomplish your mission.  I care, if I care, about your purpose and the impact your work has on the community you serve.

I want to know why what you do matters.  Then I want to know about the impact what you do has.  Instead of telling me that you have 12 seminars that focus on….tell me who takes those seminars, what their situation is before they take the seminar and what happens afterward.  In fact, don’t even mention the seminars, simply tell me who you touch, why they need you and what happens after you find each other.

I want to know who you serve—where they reside, their ages, their problems.  I want to understand what percentage of the population is affected or how many people/animals you touch.  And again, I want mainly to understand what their situation is now, and how what you do changes things.

If I am a funder, I may want a lot of numbers; as an individual donor, I mainly want stories.  I want to be able to envision your clientele and see how you make a difference.  A real difference.  Do not, for heavens’ sake, tell me that you “improve the quality of life,” unless  you describe what that is.

Start by considering why you do this work.  Why do YOU care if cats are neutered and spayed or children have a safe place to learn the alphabet?  What is the situation that you want to improve?

How does this hit you where you live?  In your values and beliefs?  Share that with would-be donors instead of listing the programs you provide.

Better still, ask if this matters to the person you are speaking if and then ask why or why not.

My mother was an orphan, shuttled back and forth between an institution and foster homes.  She was very smart but never graduated from high school.  Her life was sad, and it never really got any better.  How would this information inform the way you might talk to me?

Oh, you don’t do foster children or education?  So what?  How could you have changed my mother’s life?

Oh—you have no clue about my mother.  Of course you don’t.  How often do you actually talk WITH your donors instead of pitching to them?  Turn that around.  Talk more to your donors; talk at them less.  Reach out personally instead of keeping it all at arm’s length.

Yes, it takes more effort.  But if you find out what matters to your donors, it will pay off handsomely.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, helping to increase fundraising capacity.  Learn how we work at www.janetlevinconsulting.comContact us for your free 30-minute consutation and move from mired to inspired


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at http://courses.lmlearningstation.com/. In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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