Best Story Wins: Fundraising Communications

I attended the Charitable Soul of York Region at Seneca College yesterday. This excellent panel discussion was organized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and adeptly moderated by Lesley Sims, CFRE, Director of Resource Development, Pathways for Children, Youth and Families of York Region.

In sharing their wisdom and experience with fundraising, each of the speakers made some key points about how non-profits need to communicate with their donors.

Bruce Langstaff, philanthropist and the Chair of Major Gifts for the Mackenzie Health Foundation spoke rather candidly and humorously about his experiences raising funds. His communication advice for non-profits was to:

  • Be clear about what you did with the money donated.
  • Share your little known facts. Bruce said that sometimes just sharing “Did You Knows?” with donors can precipitate a donation. He shared the example of asking donors if they knew that the government does not fund equipment or technology. If a community knows they need to fund an MRI, they are more likely to find a way to pay for it.
  • Show your provable value that others don’t have. In business, of course, this is called your USP (unique selling proposition), but since funds are limited in the charitable world with many hands outstretched, non-profits also need to show how they can make a difference that no others can.
  • Back it up. All the speakers agreed that you have to build a business case why people should support your organization. Using statistics can help. Bruce suggests having “outcomes that we can cheer about.”
  • Simplify your communications. Not everyone thinks about your organization every day of the week so you need to be able to tell them what you do simply.

Karyn Toon, Director of Corporate Relations, Allstate Canada, spoke about fundraising from the donor perspective. Useful tips for communicators that she shared were to:

  • Understand how corporations make money. Karyn emphasized how she does not expect non-profits to serve as their advertising company but rather that they understand their channels of distribution. If a business is a B to B operation rather than a B to C, don’t offer promotional opportunities that put the company’s name in front of consumers.
  • Profile the people on your team. Since many organizations today are interested in engagement with the work of the non-profit rather than just being the cheque writers, she wants to know who the key staff and volunteers are who are responsible for the project she’s being asked to fund.

Daniele Zanotti, CEO of United Way York Region, emphasized how fundraising has changed. “Fundraising is dead,” he said. People now want to be asked to join your efforts. He warned non-profits not to continue looking for the same “usual suspects” but rather to “cultivate zealots.”

Several key suggestions were to:

  • Focus on the impact your work is having on the community.
  • Provide clearer tells and better shows.
  • Tell great stories or as he put it, “The best story wins.  Period.”

Finally, David Tsubouchi, the first Japanese Canadian to be elected to office in Canada, and a former Councillor and MPP for Markham, shared how organizations need someone to serve as a broker to the diverse ethnic communities. He also advised that non-profits get their local politicians involved with their organization before they need to ask them for money.

He also shared some advice that all communicators would appreciate. Get rid of “firehosers,” people who pour water on your ideas.

2 thoughts on “Best Story Wins: Fundraising Communications

  1. This was a terrific inaugural event – and one that I hope sets the tone for many more to come. The quality of the speakers and the content was equally wonderful. Better yet, the strong attendance at the event acknowledged that York Region has a thriving non-profit sector.

    One of the strongest take-aways I learned from the event was the importance of humanizing your organization. We all work for organizations that strive to do good work and communicate it through a myriad communication tools. Sometimes the breadth of information can become overwhelming to potnetial donors though and we need to step back and reach out as mere individuals trying to establish a personal contact and have one-on-one conversations. This is just one way we can start to cultivate ‘zealots’ and encourage people to ‘join us’ rather than simply donate to us.

  2. Thank you for your insight Catherine. I agree. The humanizing aspect is key. One way of achieving this is to take the quotes we use in our materials, read them out loud and ask ourselves, “Would we really say this?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *