The No. 1 Mistake Nonprofits Make in Fundraising

Not hitting your fundraising goals? Make sure you’re not making this way too common mistake nonprofits do when fundraising.

You work hard. Your team works hard. 

You’ve got a mission…

Lives are on the line. Foundational principles are on the line. Maybe even the future of our world is at stake.

And so you constantly run at 110%, doing five times the amount of work, for half the pay of someone else at a corporate job. 

What’s more, you’ve got insights into the problem that almost no one else does.

You’re not just an insanely dedicated worker in the field, you’re the expert. 

You understand the problems in your area more acutely than others. You’ve been innovating new, promising ways to change how this problem is addressed.

And you may even be seeing some success from your massive efforts.

This is all an incredible feat⁠—and it’s why we’re humbled to work with customers like you in the nonprofit world every day. 

But when you’re in this superhuman, world-saving mode⁠—it’s easy to fall into the number one trap that kills fundraising success:

Thinking your nonprofit is the one making it all possible. 

The No. 1 Mistake all Nonprofits Make

Everybody does this… sometimes. 

It’s not that nonprofits are egotistical. It’s not that they have a savior complex. 

This happens normally because nonprofit teams work so hard to get things done and move their mission forward. 

Slowly and unwittingly, nonprofits begin to think they’re the reason everything is happening.

Unfortunately, this comes out in their copy. 

Whether they mean to or not, whatever they really think comes out eventually.  

“Help us make a difference in Uganda!”

“Your gift is a vital part of our work!”

“Our organization is on the front lines. Keep our life-saving work alive!”

Can you hear the org-centric way this comes across? It’s as inviting as wrapping yourself in the warmth of a blanket made of sandpaper. 

For many nonprofits, this is at the root of why their fundraising efforts fail.

Org-centric copy creates emotional friction, slowing down or killing the donation process. 

Donors Make Everything Possible

So what’s the solution? How do we get out of the org-centric hole that we’ve gotten ourselves into? 

How do you craft donor-centric fundraising materials that lift donor response?

We’ve got to change the way we view our work and how it happens. 

As a nonprofit, your primary job is not to raise money.

Your primary job is to raise donors. 

Donors are the ones who make everything possible. They’re the ones who can make change in the world a viable reality. 

Your nonprofit may have all the grit in the world. You might have the very best methods, practices, and strategies to solve the massive problem you’re up against. 

But without donors, you go nowhere.

Donors make everything possible. Donors provide money, which is the fuel for your nonprofit. 

I recently watched this video of Simon Sinek explaining how businesses are like the cars we buy. 

Money is the fuel, and without it, a business will go nowhere. 

Yet no one buys a car for the purpose of purchasing fuel. Sure, you will have to buy gas, but that’s not the reason you bought the car!

Nonprofits fit nicely into Sinek’s car analogy.

We have a destination. We’re going somewhere. 

We’ve built the programs and methods that can take us there.

But our car needs fuel to move us to our destination. So we begin to fundraise as quickly as we can to get as much fuel as we can. 

After a while, we start to think that our sole purpose is to get more fuel for our magnificent car, to raise more money.

This leads to the big trap of thinking we’re the ones who make it possible, therefore, donors must give us the fuel.

As you know, donors don’t have to give. Sadly, many times they don’t give, and then we go nowhere.

Donors are the ones who make everything possible.

Don’t fall into the trap!

Just as important as the goal you’re trying to accomplish, are the people who make it possible. 

As a fundraiser or whatever role you play within your team, you’re facilitating the cause that your donors want to see become a reality.

Your nonprofit is the conduit through which the donor’s dreams come true.

So in your fundraising materials, make sure donors are at the center. 

This means…

  1. They get the credit in your fundraising materials.
  2. They have to own the results if they don’t give. 

Good copy tells donors what will happen if they give. And it also tells them what will happen if they don’t. 

(In fact, some audiences respond better to the negative motivation of what happens if they don’t give.) 

Either way, you’re not the center of attention, which is the number one mistake nonprofits make in their fundraising materials.

Avoid the trap. Keep your focus on raising donors, not money.