It’s not business… it’s personal


During the Q & A at an AFP Chicago workshop I attended last week, one of the presenters touched upon the notion that fundraising is not sales. I found myself leaning over to my tablemate and whispering, “I’m not so sure that I agree.”

While there are elements and nuances of the philanthropic relationship that extend beyond what we tend to think of with the transactional nature of sales, I have found that there is more than enough common ground. The goal in both cases is to help meet a need or to solve a problem that our donors/customers care about. At the end of the day, our success is linked directly to our ability to address those personal goals.

The truth is that I’ve discovered great ideas and lessons from practitioners that are directing their voices more towards the sales and marketing sectors. In particular, I have found a ton of inspiration from Seth Godin’s daily blog and wanted to share one of his recent posts. Seth does a fantastic job of framing the customer’s perspective in a very donor-centric fashion,

“Are you trying to sell me something?”  

“For a culture that spends so much time and money buying things, you’d think we’d be more excited when someone tries to sell us something.

But we’re not.

The semantics are important here. What we really mean is, “are you trying to selfishly persuade me to buy something that will benefit you more than it benefits me?”

We’re goal-directed, risk-averse and self-focused. We don’t care about the salesperson’s commission, of course. We care about our own resources.

The magic happens when the goals are aligned, when the service component of sales kicks in, when long-term satisfaction exceeds short-term urgency.

When someone acts in a way that says, “can I help you buy something?” or, “can I help you achieve your goals?” then we’re on our way. And of course, it’s the doing, not the saying that matters the most.”

The other presenter at last week’s workshop was a donor and volunteer. Her advice to the room not only reinforces Seth’s case, it is a great reminder of what is going on in the minds of our donors. She said that we should, “appreciate where your donor is coming from.” That, “This is very personal… I’m choosing to make an investment in your organization with money that I could otherwise be giving to my family.” We all have great reasons why we think people should support our mission, but at the end of the day, we’re making a big mistake if we lose sight of the opportunity to support their personal philanthropic mission.

Regardless of where you stand in terms of the relationship between the arts of fundraising and sales, I would suggest we can all agree that focusing our efforts on helping our donors achieve their personal goals is the path to success for everyone involved.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions


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