Speaking about your programs in a way donors want to invest in them

Speaking about your programs in a way donors want to invest in them

This blog entry was first published as a guest entry on Bloomerang.co.

I was surprised to find out one of our largest donors didn’t have a clear idea of what our mission actually was!


Shocked Executive Director

Have you ever been blown away by an off-the-wall question from a donor or board member? You know, the one that makes you wonder if they even know what your organization does?

I hear this often.

On the flip-side, one of my favorite things about my business is that I get to regularly meet with leaders of nonprofits all over the world and hear about the amazing journeys their missions have taken them on. These organizations are solving problems I didn’t even know existed.

It’s inspiring - a doctor who has dedicated her life to solving a rare disease I would have never known existed until I met her. A businessperson who learned about a crisis of men stuck in prostitution who desire freedom - another issue I didn’t completely grasp the scale of.

I truly get a front row seat watching some of the most inspirational leaders in the world. These people are subject-matter experts fighting the crisis - and therefore implementing the programs to solve these issues. Many have spent years learning, designing, and perfecting their craft.

They know their programs and their organization’s intricacies better than anyone. It’s almost like they speak a different language.

All sounds great, right? People will simply understand your mission and then open their wallets!

Well, not really.

A challenge exists when this same expert has to serve as an educator, explainer, or interpreter of their mission to the public at large. Sometimes, because you know it so well, could talk about it in your sleep, and speak frequently about the details, it’s easy to forget the average person might not fully understand what you are even talking about.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to assume our donors don’t have questions about our work or missions. Why is this important?  Because our donors will give their best gifts when they completely understand what we do and know how their gift will make an impact on the lives served by the organization.

When donors are giving to you and still have unanswered questions in their mind about your organization, this leads to funding challenges.

How do we solve this?


Boil it down. Your programs should roll off your tongue. They should provide clarity to your donors. Pause and make sure you explain your programs in words that everyone can understand - not just your internal program staff. And not with any acronyms or industry jargon.

Recently I was working with a client and really struggled to even understand all they did on a daily basis to serve their constituents. They had a long list of programs that were confusing to donors because they were rooted in industry jargon. Furthermore, one program was 4 letters - I had no idea what it meant. I literally had to stop the meeting and ask for an explanation.

Sometimes, as an outsider, I can be the perfect tester for this because if I can’t understand the programs by meeting #3, we have a problem.

There are two other traps I see when programs are described to potential donors:

Activities vs. Impact
Perhaps you jumped in head first and founded your nonprofit - you started doing all sorts of activities and tasks to get this thing off the ground! But since that time, have you taken the time to categorize the activities into digestible programs for clarity? I find many nonprofits describing their programs as the lists of activities they do - the supporting tasks that drive your program. For example, if you had a tutoring program for underprivileged kids that also provided dental exams, eye exams, and a warm meal each day, we wouldn’t call each one of those a program. But perhaps you would summarize and call it a health & wellness program.

Seems simple, right? But when this isn’t dialed-in, donors do not truly have a grasp on your work and programs. And they will not give their best gift.

Under-selling Programs
Secondly, be careful not to sell yourself short by not defining your programs. For example, if you are running a summer camp for children who have a disability, is that your only program? Oh, you’re also providing online training to the parents through the other months of the year? Oh, and you’re also providing respite care to the parents by giving them a break from special needs kids? Oh, and by the way, you’re helping the campers who graduate from your camp with job hunting, resume creation, and internships? Sounds like you are running more programs than just a camp! Perhaps your programs are Camp & Recreation, Parental Support, and Post-Camp Career Support.

When your programs are in clear, easily digestible categories, you can create a supporting budget in these same categories. When you can do this, your donors will more clearly understand what impact their giving can make.

Is there a new way you can present your mission-based activities that provides a clearer understanding of your work to donors? Have your programs evolved over the years, but your categories have not?

What’s next? Do a check this quarter - schedule a half-day away and try to think objectively about your work. Consider getting a third-party opinion. Speak to your closest donors and get their advice. This task will be worth it when you see your donors in deep alignment with your mission and work.

Whenever you’re ready, here are three ways I can help you.

1. Get FREE TRAINING. Discover the proven system that consistently raises more money to fund your mission every year. And perhaps more important, learn the things that are keeping you from growing and making it harder for your donors to give! Register here.

2. In the next 90-days, learn how to secure larger donations for your mission. If you want to move into mid- and major-level individual gift programs for your nonprofit, but you’re not sure what your next step is, I can help. Just email me here and put "Donors" in the subject line and I’ll get you the details.

3. Work with me privately. If you'd like to work directly with me to level-up your current development process and grow your charitable revenue tremendously, just email me here and put "Private" in the subject line. Tell me a little about your organization and what keeps you up at night when it comes to your funding, and I'll get you all the details.

- Sherry

Creating a Nonprofit Budget that Propels Your Fundraising

Creating a Nonprofit Budget that Propels Your Fundraising