In the word fundraising, there’s the word “raising” and that’s essential to understand why it’s not an easy task to accomplish. When you’re asking someone for funds (or anything else for a matter of fact) you’re implicitly raising their hopes for some sort outcome and (unfortunately) more often than not, in the Western world, a return. So while the vast majority of people involved in fundraising generally focus on the “what” of their bidding, they should actually spend more time on the “why” because that’s what discourages most benefactors to take part.
Fundraising really means “raising expectations”.
It’s become common and peculiarly almost an automatism, to raise funds to do most anything today; from launching a creative project on Kickstarter, to travel on Fundmytravel and even for your home on Featherthenest ! So those that are involved in searching for capital for their business (startup) or for a non-profit (charity) need to recognize that their previously unconventional and modern approach is no longer peerless — they are now just another solicitation in the increasingly unfathomable forest of fundraising.
Not a day goes by when we’re not faced with the grief-stricken face of a young child in a ravaged war zone, support for an advanced lobby against GMO behemoths or proposals to support ludicrous fresh juice making machine projects! Add to this the wave of ubiquitous advertising that spurs our aspirations to purchase “happiness” in whatever form and, let’s not forget, our own daily mix of personal, family, and professional solicitations and you get a result that greatly exceeds our natural ability to distinguish priorities and allocate the correct amount of attention. But since none of these are existential (vs safe being, hunger, rest, illness etc), then how do we treat this mass of peripheral and often frivolous appeals? Strangely, they’re simply grouped together as a bundle of “generic solicitations” and parked in part of our brain where we process them along with close to 95% of our cognitive activities — unconsciously.
So now that you have grasped someone’s attention, your project is now competing with all these other concerns in the background.
Which brings us back to raising expectations. Is your project truly aligned with the outcome that the person you’re soliciting wants or needs? Is your project or charity really going to make the person feel better than the new set of golf clubs he has his sights on or her daughter’s education? Does the person want to see proof that their funds have made a difference to someone’s lives (Charity Water) or are they in search of recognition (Carnegie Donors Circle) or maybe they’re purely focused on their exit and multiple (Answering the “Exit Strategy” Question)?
Raising someone’s expectations is not only a responsibility but also a liability, whether it is tangible or imperceptible.
Whatever the reason, it’s vital that expectations are mapped and not merely assumed since giving has an entirely different value set than investing but curiously it share’s the same ambiguous motives. But maybe the best way to approach the act of fundraising is actually by understanding that we are primarily an emotional species and people won’t buy what you do, they’ll buy why you do it.