What the Awkward Cocktail Party Can Teach Us About Fundraising

You know the situation: You were invited to a party of a new friend. You come into the room and quickly figure out that everyone there has been friends for years. You stand politely and listen to all their fun stories with the half knowing smile -- you are trying to be polite, but you’re bored, sort of confused and ready to leave.

It is a cohort echo-chamber, everyone is familiar with everyone else in the room and is recounting common experiences, likes and future plans. You linger around the cheese plate and refill your glass.

Credit: Istockphoto/npr

Credit: Istockphoto/npr

And this sort of situation is all too common inside a non-profit organization. Why does this matter? Because you have a lot of potential donors out there who probably feel like the awkward new friend at a party of long-standing friends.

What can you do to welcome new donors and even some current donors to the party?

Don’t use jargon. Just as with situations we are new to, groups of friends and families have all sorts of unintentional jargon that is familiar to all of them, but completely foreign to you.  “Did you know Auntie Betty Boo was down at the Miller’s place for the NSPI Conference?” No, I did not, nor do I know why this aunt is “betty boo” or who the Millers are or this conference. I’ve written about this before, but feel it is important to reiterate.

Don’t make assumptions:  We are so important that they have to support us! -- this is a common refrain from many an executive director/board member and staffer. It is easy to get so caught up in the work that we are doing that we forget that many potential supporters and allies don’t know all the ins and outs of the work you are doing and therefore, don't understand why a donation will make an impact.

Create simple, story-based updates:  We are drowning in apps, abbreviations, emojis, reports and statistics. A recent article discussed how consumers are bombarded with 3,000 messages a day. That is just from people trying to sell you stuff. Offer a respite from this onslaught and periodically share a simple, singular story that encapsulates your mission and impact.

Ask your donors for their opinion, but do something with the information once you have it. We are all familiar with the common practice of listening to the donor and sending out periodic questionnaires to gain insights into a donors motivations for supporting your organization. But how often do we do anything about it? We are all “listened” to everyday, but often times not “heard.” Show your donor that you hear them by making an actionable change based on their input and showing the donor how their input led to that change.  It is easier than ever to solicit the advice of donors, check out Facebook’s new group chat function. Organize a simple FB chat with your supporters to solicit some immediate feedback and input, live!

Taking these steps will help build a more familiar relationships with your donors at all levels.