Why use the ‘WHY’ in 2015?

Published by Vera Peerdeman on

Have you heard about the ‘why’? And why it’s so important to find the ‘why’ of your organization in order to raise more money? I guess you do. You’ve probably read about it in books, or heard about it during conferences. You’ve maybe even organized a workshop about it with your colleagues. And if not, you can learn all about it in just 15 minutes via this great TEDTalk of Simon Sinek.

why illustratie kleiner

The last few years I’ve seen a lot of NGOs starting the journey to find their why. For some, this journey took place on a bumpy road. Mostly because finding the why of an organization is one thing, but making every single colleague enthusiastic about using it in their daily work is another. Most of the fundraisers I’ve met, believe that the why is the future for NGOs. And I believe they’re right. Having said that, I often see them struggle implementing it in such a way, that it will be measurable and profitable. Here’s my attempt to help them with that.

1. Shift from technique to content

For a lot of fundraisers, technique and process are leading within their strategy. Didn’t we learn that we can often find the solution in the data? If you want the why to be part of your fundraising strategy, you have to make a shift though. To content. Not just the content that, if you put it in the right position with the right picture next to it, will open wallets. But content that expresses your purpose and your belief as well, that aims for the reader’s heart. (OK, I guess this one probably wasn’t shockingly new for you. But you’ll probably agree that it has to be part of every fundraiser’s thinking when starting a new fundraising activity).

2. Measure revenue per donor as well as per activity

Since most fundraisers still work with the donor pyramid, they focus on how to upgrade their donors from the lower, to the upper levels. They measure return on fundraising activities and techniques. When focusing on the why though, and therefore inspiring and committing people with your beliefs and dreams, chances are high that donors will enter the pyramid on higher levels right away. Wouldn’t it be more logical then (or at least: more interesting), to measure the return on a donor as well as a single technique? And to measure the extent to which a donor is interested in your why? Because, a high level of interest could lead to a high(er) revenue per donor.

To put it in other words: if you don’t measure this, it could happen that you analyze a technique as unprofitable, and therefore stop using it. While it could be that you just didn’t focus the technique on the right target group, the group that shares your why. And after you stopped using the technique, these donors will not be given the chance anymore to give to your why again. Wouldn’t that be a pity? And more important: potentially lead to less profit?

3. Start with a single campaign first…

A sudden and complete shift to fundraising with the why is not recommendable. At least, not in my opinion. Testing ways to share the why with (prospective) donors successfully, is a better option. Most of all, because it’s low-risk: implementing the why in a single activity and see how it works, will give you the opportunity to change your approach in the near future. Without having spend a lot of budget. It’ll help you and your team to collect learnings, and transform them to better ways to commit donors to your organization. It’ll provide you – step by step – with information you can use to develop a profitable annual fundraising program.

4. …and only then implement it in your annual fundraising program

See 3 :-D

5. Finally, implement it in your organization

Since we’re all fundraisers, seeing the why from a fundraising perspective would sound logical – whether it’s a single fundraising campaign or an annual fundraising program. But of course there’s more to it than just fundraising. Working with the why will only succeed (and be profitable) on the long term, when it’s visible in each and every activity. When it’s part of every team member’s thinking and behavior, whether it’s your chairman or your receptionist. You need to prove that using the why is not just another new ‘thing’ or ‘trick’ you use to raise money, and that the why really is what you are. And I think that is what (future) donors are looking for nowadays. They’re waiting for your sincere invitation to join you to realize the dreams you share.

And isn’t that what fundraising is all about, in the end?

Vera Peerdeman

Vera wants to bridge the gap between those who give and those who receive. When speaking with donors, she notices a gap between their perceptions and expectations and those of the organizations they support. She wants to bring donors and organizations together to realize their ideals. That’s why she wrote Handbook Friendraising (Dutch). Vera is proud that people see her as a specialist in major donor fundraising. When she speaks at (inter)national seminars and congresses, she gets inspired by interacting with the fundraisers in the audience. Please feel free to call her if you’d like to talk about whether she could make a valuable contribution to your project or conference.


Simona Biancu · January 20, 2015 at 10:54

I totally agree with you, Vera!
And I have particularly appreciated your post since I am at this stage with an NGO I am working with. They are really great in the way they approach donors and engage prospects, but the fact is that they have missed the WHY. Following this way, they have in some way forgotten the most profound reason at the very base of the organization – and a part of their mission as well.
My task is to revamp such WHY to encourage and stimulate a way to broaden their ability to find new donors. It is a challenging job, based on a long-term perspective but, for this precise reason, really interesting.
Thanks for sharing your suggestions!

Henkjan · January 20, 2015 at 12:32

Hi Vera,
Interesting story. Particularly the part about ‘Measure revenue per donor’. I wonder: how should we measure that?
Grtz, Henkjan

    Vera Peerdeman · January 28, 2015 at 16:36

    Good question, HenkJan! I see two ways in which you can do that:
    1. Ask donors questions that give you insight in their level of commitment to your organization. This will help you to divide donors into segments, and if you repeatedly ask questions concerning their commitment you can measure what happens within each segment.
    2. The second way needs a short intro: let’s say an organization sends out 4 asks per year. When donors respond to only 1 ask, organizations often chose to send them less asks. But if you act like that, you don’t take into account that the donor could have deliberately chosen to donate only once a year (and could do so for 10+ years) and sees the 4 letters not as asks, but as a way to get informed about the organization’s work. Sending less letters could than have the effect that the donor decides to give even less than once a year. In that perspective, it could be more interesting to measure the value of each donor (and/or donor segments) in stead of (or: next to) to measure per ask.

Caroline · June 18, 2015 at 07:08

Asking WHY…..A question never thought to be asked or considered.

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