Do you need your donors?



There’s no maybe, no degrees of agreement.  You need them, or you don’t.

If you answered no, never mind what I’m saying; it doesn’t apply to you.

If you said yes, here’s a second question:  Do your donors

know you need them




If you answered yes to the first question and no to the second, you have a problem.

Too many nonprofits live in a shadowy land where they need their donors to fund vital programs—but they don’t want to admit it.  So their fundraising offers go something like this:

Maybe you’d be interested in giving.  But don’t worry if you don’t give.  We’re a very well-run organization, and if you can’t give, we have many other sources of funding.  You’re a small fish anyway, to be honest.


I’m exaggerating, but only a bit.  These organizations are practicing passive-aggressive fundraising.  It tiptoes around the issue of need.  It hints at asking.  It expects donors to read between the lines and understand what they’re unwilling to come out and say.  In my experience, this comes from the fear that if we admit need often, we’ll be the boy who cried “wolf,” and people won’t take our need seriously.

You can overdo “emergency mode” and lose credibility, like that car alarm in the neighborhood that’s constantly going off.  But if you’re truly in need, tell the truth,  Your sense of what’s “too often” is certainly more sensitive than a donor’s.  I’ve seen emergency funding shortfall appeals do well more times than I can count.  And I’ve never seen repercussions to such appeals.

Because donors want to be wanted and need to be needed.  So if you need your donors, go ahead and tell them.  Let them know the urgency and the stakes.  Be direct, strong, and clear.  Don’t hide behind a passive-aggressive smokescreen.

It works; it’s respectful of donors; and (assuming you’re telling the truth) it’s the right thing to do.

imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle|Domain, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.