Transporting Your Donor To The Scene Series: Zeroing In On The Need

You know what it feels like when you show up to a program site – and it could be program involving people or program involving animals or the environment.  You know what it feels like.

Just take a moment now to fix your memory on the experience.

You show up.  There may be some chatter about “we’re doing this or we’re doing that.”  It usually is about what is happening.  And then, if you are properly focused on zeroing in on the need, you see the actual person in need, or animal or environmental disaster, and things begin to change.

There are a variety of emotions.

Anger. Sadness. Empathy.

Sometimes you want to move away.  It makes you uncomfortable.  If your cause is one involving people, it can be very hard to look into the person’s eyes.  You try to disguise your reaction to what you are seeing or feeling.  Are you doing the right things?  Are you saying the right things?  What is the other person thinking?

This wandering of the mind and heart is a natural reaction to the hurt and pain we see in others.  It is at once pulling us in to help and pushing us away to escape.

I remember an experience I had with a homeless person in a shelter once.  He was dirty.  He smelled bad.  He had a certain shiftiness about him, that street smart persona that you just didn’t quite trust.  I did not want to be close to him, yet I was drawn in.

Was it guilt and obligation that drew me?  Or was it some form of love?  It made me very uncomfortable. I kept thinking about all that I had and all that he didn’t.  Guilt, that was it.  Why were things so good for me and so bad for him?

Then we sat and talked.  I realized he had the same mental and emotional wandering that I did.  What did this man want?  What was he going to do?  Was he just going to use me?  Could I trust him?

As we talked I could see he was relaxing.  So was I.  I didn’t notice the dirt as much.  Or the smell.

Now we were just two fathers sitting together talking about the journey.

Over the years I have trained myself to focus on the need when visiting program sites.  Why?  Because the right fix on the need drives everything you do in fundraising.  It drives:

  1. A clear understanding of what the problem is in human and emotional terms.  Don’t forget, the whole point of a non-profit is to solve problems – all kinds of problems.  When you focus on the need, you gain a very clear view of what you are trying to do.
  2. The ability  to remember what the main point is.  It is amazing to me how quickly we forget the major point of our work.  Here is what I mean.  When I ask an MGO, a Development Director or any fundraiser to define his or her job, the response is usually something like, “My job is to raise money.”  Or it might be, “My job is to manage the fundraising, communication and marketing agenda of our organization.”  I very rarely hear that the person’s main job is to solve a problem or address a need.  So the right fix on the need reminds you what the main point is.
  3. A proper balance of head and heart.  A fix on the need keeps your heart engaged and that is very important.  Too many of us stay solely in our heads, with all the logic, planning, to do lists, numbers, etc. And our hearts are cold.  I know from experience that a cold heart in fundraising is a major block to success.  And the way you keep your heart warm is to be up against the need all the time.  It keeps you balanced, focused and properly aligned.

So, having the right fix on the need is very important in the work you do as an MGO.  I recommend that every time you think about a specific ask, proposal or case, you first zero in on the need.  Take the following steps:

  1. Describe the need. Do not get into solutions.  Simply write down the answer to the question “What is the need?”  I find that just this exercise alone can be difficult.  In fact, in every session or training I have done on this subject, it is extremely difficult for the person to describe the need without getting into the solution to the need.  Try it.  Just describe the need.
  2. Make sure you describe it in emotional and human terms.  Take a look at what you have written in your description of the need.  Did you use a lot of head language like “This situation is part of a social trend in this area….” – language that really does not connect to the need?  This is head language.  It is needed, but not in the quantity you will tend use.  What does it FEEL like, as a human being, to be in this situation?  What are you experiencing because you are in this situation?  This is what I want to see in your description.  Make the need human.
  3. Do not get into political correctness.  I will deal with this subject in a future post, but it is worth mentioning here.  This is not the time in the process of describing the need to be asking yourself the following question:  “Should I be saying that?”  Nope.  Do NOT do that.  Too many politically correct folks are so disengaged from need that you can hardly discern if they are human. Don’t go there.

Describing the need as you should is a very difficult thing to do – more difficult than you think.  And the reason is because it is so painful and disturbing – as it should be.  Let yourself go into the need, the pain the hurt.  It will be good for you personally and professionally.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
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3 Responses to Transporting Your Donor To The Scene Series: Zeroing In On The Need

  1. Colin says:

    This is timely! I’ve taken on lead for individual giving. We have to tell stories that will make people want to give, to know they are making the difference. If we are to help poor communities help themselves, we need people to give generously. But we are a charity that wants to go beyond charity – to a more just world. And that’s where we start to struggle – because we worry that showing the need will treat people as powerless victims, people to whom charity is done, rather than people who need and can work towards that more just world. And sometimes it feels like we would prefer to talk about the problems solved, the progress made, rather than confront the ugly reality of problems still faced. I look forward to reading the rest of the series… and seeing if others face the same challenges.

  2. Jess Green says:

    I’m just now diving into this series and I love it already! This is exactly what my organization needs right now. We’re an environmental organization and we often struggle with how to make something as broad and ambiguous as “saving the environment” into something tangible for our supporters without boring them with stats.

  3. It can be done, Jess. It can be done. Thanks for reading.

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