So what is a donor anyway?
Somebody who gives you money, right?
No. A donor is a friend. Your treasured friend. Family by adoption.
And that, my friend, is the key to finding your first 1,000 donors. It’s important that you totally get that point, so let’s back up and talk about what a charity is and how it fits into to society. Once you understand that, you’ll understanding that the very title to this post is wrong.
It’s not about getting donors.
It’s about finding them.
Your Donors Are Out There
You see, they’re already out there. They’re waiting for you. They want what you want, whatever that goodness your charity brings to the world. They are ready to share their time, money, and skills.
I promise you. No matter how small, how niche, your charity can find people who believe in your mission.
Chicken Soup And Your Donors
It’s hardwired into us, this drive to help others. The impulse to help others is a fundamental part of survival of a community.
Suppose your neighbor is sick. You take your neighbor a pot of chicken soup. Pretty simple when it’s a neighbor in need.
But what about when it’s a larger need? Say your neighbor needs a barn. Well, you can’t do it yourself, so you round up the neighbors and hold a barn building party.
What if your community is threatened? You organize a possee to hunt down the bad guys or establish a Neighborhood Watch program. The drive to help the rest of your community runs throughout your being.
It’s because the principle of reciprocity is at the very heart of forming community, an innate compulsion in our nature. It’s the essence of, “We’re stronger together.”
There’s an expectation built into a community that says, “I’ll help you and you’ll help me.” It’s not an obligation imposed from outside.
But what if you’re tied up making chicken soup and the people on the other side of the town need a barn built?
But What About When You Need A LOT Of Chicken Soup?
At some point, as communities get larger, organizations arise that take over that compulsion to take soup to a neighbor. And thus the public benefit corporation was born.
In 2016, there were more than 1,097,689 public charities. In 2010, nonprofits accounted for 9.2% of all wages and salaries paid in the United States. (Source: The Nonprofit Almanac, 2012)
Nonprofit Share of GDP was 5.3% in 2014. https://nccs.urban.org/data-statistics/quick-facts-about-nonprofits
Fulfilling this basic need of communities to do good is a big part of our national economy.
So where does that money come from?
In 2013, public charities reported over $1.74 trillion in total revenues and $1.63 trillion in total expenses. Of the revenue:
- 21% came from contributions, gifts and government grants.
- 72% came from program service revenues, which include government fees and contracts.
- 7% came from "other" sources including dues, rental income, special event income, and gains or losses from goods sold.
For many charities starting out, the primary source of income will be direct donations. Usually, starting out, you don’t qualify for most grants or you simply don’t have the people to put together grant proposals, and you don’t have enough structure yet to charge program fees.
We’ll take up grants and program fees in another post. For now, let’s concentrate on donations.
So yeah. Taking chicken soup to a neighbor – well, on a slightly larger scale, accounts for 5.3% of the GDP. It’s that important to society.
It’s also that important to individuals in society, and that’s what our focus will be on – finding those people who want to be part of your group chicken soup program.
Your Chicken Soup Makers
First, we’ll look for people who are already interested in your brand of chicken soup. Next, we’ll look for the people who would be supporters if they knew more.
To find your tribe, you first have to define exactly who they are. The two easiest ways to define your community are by EITHER:
- Specific subject matter, e.g. Autism, Greyhound Rescue, Thyroid Cancer
- Specific geographic area with a general cause, e.g. Kids in Austin, Texas, Animal Welfare in Knoxville.
Pick one. Stick to it. Resist the temptation to go too narrow, such as Thyroid Cancer in Knoxville.
FIRST, give them a way to find you.
The easiest way is to put together a simple Facebook page and a Facebook group. You’ll need both. Give them related names and use your logo on both.
SECOND, join related groups and make friends. Contribute to ongoing discussions, answer and ask questions.
THIRD, once you get to know people, invite them to like your page. Then share the story, share the need.
That’s all there is to it, right?
Heh. Not hardly.
Those are the three mechanical steps to drawing in your donors. But what you need before that is the story.. We need to intentionally create that story forthem to live out, an overarching penumbra of community that is larger than life.
The Story Of Your Charity
We build that the same way we build a good story: with a hook that interests the donor, a theme that they can identify with, and a mechanism for letting them become a full-fledged member of your tribe.
Let’s start at the beginning. There are three things you have to accomplish within the first few pages of a novel and you have to do the same things in organizing a community – AND within the first few minutes of meeting a new potential supporter. You have to hook the person, get them to suspend their disbelief, and create reader/personal identification.
Here’s how it works.
The first step to creating community is to make it interesting to people.
The hook is what catches their attention. It is a problem, an opportunity, a common interest, a cause. It’s closely related to the purpose and should reflect the main purpose of the organization. If it doesn't, you’ll lose people once they figure out it’s a bait and switch.
Your hook has to share the common interests or core of your community in a way that attracts attention of both those already interested in the community as well as those not necessarily interested. This is called the substance of the hook.
The hook needs an image. It can be a logo, a picture, or even just a set of initials. You want to engage your potential member visually. It could be a picture of a tragedy, but be careful with that.
Unless you've got the photographic equivalent of the flag-raising on the Iwo Jima, you should probably stick with a logo.
The final thing you need for the hook is a way to get in front of your target audience. Who is your donor? Are they going to visit your web site? Do they read newspapers? Do they work out a lot?
How are you going to reach your potential members?
Let me digress just a little bit again. True fanatics about your cause will find you. They're looking for you. What you want are the people who are not going to find you that easily. Yes, you need to maintain contact with your fanatics and bring them into your organization, but that's a different problem from reaching fresh converts initially.
So, the very first thing you need to work on is a solid hook, and that means defining the substance, creating a visual reference, and deciding how to reach your potential audience.
The next thing you need to work on is identification, getting your potential member to identify with something in organization.
So what do people identify with?
Let’s start by thinking of your community as a character in a novel. Now, this may come as a huge surprise, but most people are not completely good or bad. They’re a mixture of both. The basic premise of reader identification is creating some quality in each character that the reader can identify with. Something “human” in your community has to touch that same quality in your member.
People have lots of things like that embedded deep inside them. Universal secrets, if you will. Those always resonate – and quite powerfully, too, since they’re secrets.
Even with those “human” elements, your community needs to be heroic: larger than life, capable of acts of bravery and heroism that the rest of us just dream about.
Your cause must be in some way bigger than life. It must be HEROIC.
Becoming a member
Finally, you must transition your potential member from identifying with your community to believing that they can be a part of it. This is suspension of disbelief.
There three things that you must do in this phase.
- Make it easy to join your group. This is especially true for volunteer and nonprofit organizations. Reach out to people where they are. These days, that means having websites and email contact info as well as snail mail for those who haven't made the transition yet.
- Don't require a life-and-death commitment upfront. Make it in small increments, maybe a fifteen minute task. Example: "Can you meet me at the hospital and help me reorganize the supply cabinet? With two of us, it’ll take about fifteen minutes and I’d sure appreciate the company. "
- Make it easy for them to make that small commitment by getting them up to speed on what the regulars know. Make sure they know:
- How to get in. Which gate or entrance is the best?
- Where they can park. Is it comped or validated? Will they need change?
- What the procedure is. Are there security guards? What do you tell them when you arrive? Do you need to sign in somewhere?
DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO MAKE THEMSELVES UNCOMFORTABLE BY PUTTING THEM IN POSITIONS WHERE THEY WILL MAKE MISTAKES OR FEEL LIKE NEWCOMERS.
Have a name tag for them (more on this later). Treat them like they belong. Make them feel like an insider before they even show up. Your plan is to simply get them in the door, get them through the introductory awkwardness and make them feel a part of the team.
4. Manage the contradiction:
While you’re making them experience what it will feel like to be a member, do not assume they are members of community. Don’t start assigning them follow up tasks and goals. Let them make next commitment. You can coax it out of them, provide the opportunities, but let them take that step.
DO NOT IMMEDIATELY INNUDATE THEM WITH ALL THE RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILTIES OF MEMBERSHIP.
I know this seems a little bit contradictory, making them feel like they’re part of something while not hitting them up with everything that’s involved in belonging. But that’s how you introduce your prospective community member to the organization as it exists in reality.
What you want them to do next is to make a commitment to belong or help in some way. It can be a very small one. It can be something like, "I'm available to this again if you need it." It may be more extensive such as signing up to help one day a week. Find out where your volunteers are in terms of commitment and meet them there.
Now that we've done some of the basic structural work on the community, it's time to begin creating it. It’s not enough just to recruit people to your cause or group or forum or whatever community you’re trying to create. As people respond to your hook, are identifying with your group,and are seeing themselves as members of it, you need to have a community for them to actually join.
You need to intentionally and mindfully put in place those things that define a community, those things that make a group of people something more than just a group of people.
Those “things” are language, norms, structures, goals, communication, and higher purpose. We’ll cover those next.