Thursday, November 19, 2015

Great Fundraisers Don't Need Brochures

To be honest, I've been pondering whether I should post this blog for a while, thinking it will probably kick up some major dust or at least lead to a few great conversations along the way. 

For those of us experienced in fundraising, we already know that there is a turnover problem in our industry. The average lifespan for a front line fundraiser is 16 months right now. But in contrast, if you've ever been exposed to an amazing fundraiser, you know it instantly. I have noticed a few differences between those who excel in our field and those who struggle. Today I want to cover one of those differences.

Many times front line fundraisers will come to us in donor relations and communications looking for "collateral" or print pieces like case statements and brochures. Often they're looking for a leave behind for a donor but I find that these communications can often be a crutch for a weaker fundraiser. While we need to tell our story of need to the donor, do we need to do it in a pre-printed format that isn't custom to the donor?

The best fundraisers don't need brochures. They make their visits all about the donors and matching their philanthropic interests with the organization's needs. they innately understand that one size doesn't fit all and that in fact, a case statement or brochure printed en masse may dissuade a donor. 
What if your donor is left with the perception that if they don't fund one of the items on the list then you will move on to someone else on down the road who will? 

With today's full color print on demand resources, why do we continue to produce these publications? We know our donors are unique and special to us, what if we invested the same resources into printing big sweeping collateral trying to be everything to everyone and spend that time and resource on creating modular, customizable pieces that are catered to a specific donor. In contrast, do donors want to see a big list of funding priorities that are possible? Maybe these pieces expand their horizons to funding opportunities that they were unaware of. As we all know fundraising is an art and a science. The art of fundraising, the height of the profession, is perfectly pairing a donor's passions with a funding opportunity. If we do that, and do it well, then we have made both the donor and the organization move forward in a meaningful way. 

Next time you're around an amazing fundraiser, someone who truly has an amazing passion for our profession and is able to bring fundraising to almost a nirvana state, watch their behaviors, look at common characteristics, and try to understand the things we can do to help support their success. It probably doesn't come in a tri-fold version.

I would love to hear your thoughts, especially from those of you who fundraise and help those who do. 


  1. This is excellent. I feel the same way Lynne. My passion for the organization should exude and be so compelling that it intrigues donors and in the end motivates them to partner with us!

  2. Great blog. Couldn't agree more.

  3. Too often, print materials are a toy that fills awkward space with donors. They distract from the deep conversations that are needed with donors to find their heart's desire. Part of the necessary change is training development staff to be comfortable with referring donors to the website.

  4. This is especially true when the publication of the brochure drives the fundraising cycle!

  5. The trend now of using language like "investors decks" and complex Power Point presentations is of great concern when I think about younger people starting out. are so on target with this. Once we prepared a lot of printed material to hand out at a fundraising dinner in an effort to kick of a $350k capital campaign. Lesson learned....many people did not read it but responded to impassioned speakers. I would take them with me when meeting one on one with donors, but rarely used any of it except for the pledge form which many happily took. Thanks for writing this.

  6. From a marketing department standpoint, we don't necessarily have the capacity to make a custom piece for each donor visit. We are in a university setting, and there are dozens of initiatives. Even using boilerplate and templates, it takes time to learn about each donor and craft something specialized to their interests. Obviously, it'd make a lot of sense to do so, but practically speaking, it's really taxing on the communications team. Just throwing that out there.

    I do agree, though, that a good fundraiser can sell a project without a brochure and, in fact, we have about a thousand brochures for a recent initiative rotting away in a closet because none of our front-line fundraisers wanted to use them.

  7. Lynne,
    Enjoyed your post and you are spot on, recently I was approached by a friend on behalf of a perspective donor to our NPO,she asked if the we had a "wish list" I responded yes but I asked the her if the perspective donor would be open to a "tour" of our campus rather than receiving a "wish list." The donor agreed and we had a great tour of our organization that day,we had a great exchange and he seeing the orginazition and meeting many of the children we serve..he left that day giving me a significant first gift and the fundraising journey has just begun, connecting him with our cause..our children..
    Gary L Bukowski CFRE