biggest marketing and fundraising weakness

Your Biggest Marketing & Fundraising Weakness: Yourself

Mckenna Bailey

I haven’t posted for a while as the nonprofit sector loves to jam all its conferences right in the middle of the busiest time of year apparently (why do we do that?) but after trips, conferences, and discussions with people all over North America I’m more convinced of one thing: I’m a bad marketer/fundraiser.

This post originally appeared on re:charity.

Okay, that’s a bit harsh but I’m guilty of doing a lot of not so great marketing. And so are you. It’s somewhat unavoidable. It’s the curse of knowledge. Or as Flint McGlaughlin of MECLABS said at the recent NextAfter Nonprofit Innovation Summit, it’s our blind spot.

Flint’s theory is that all marketers have blind spots – that’s natural – but not working to recognize our blind spots – that’s criminal. See we know too much. Or at least we think we do. And we want to be right, to be perceived as smart, to be acknowledged by our peers.

But this leads to professional marketers choosing the wrong experiment result 72% of the time according to repeated MECLABS experiments. Or why 1/4 of people choose incorrectly in police lineups – according to Flint. The more we know the more ineffective we may actually be and on top of that we gain more confidence – to the point where we will put people behind bars!

I think this blind spot or curse of knowledge is compounded in the nonprofit space because you (marketers/fundraisers) are, generally (and hopefully), very passionate, knowledgeable, and connected to your work. So that blind spot grows a bit more. And, typically, your customers/donors know even less and (hopefully not) care even less than regular customers/donors do about brands and products (they would never say this but I think it’s pretty true). This increases our smugness and overconfidence. And the blind spot grows again.

The end result? Us focused fundraising. Stats focused fundraising. Lack of donor experience focused fundraising. Database focused fundraising. Arrogant fundraising.

We make ourselves the hero of the story and use all kinds of big numbers and ‘facts’ to back it up and assume donors will love us so much because of that, that they will fill out unnecessary form fields and click 8 times on a mobile unresponsive website by pinching and zooming their way to a donation.

But hey, at least you know your donor is a Mrs., was born March 1st, and has a cell, work, and home phone number, and heard about you from ‘social media’. That’ll come in handy when you finally implement that personalized multi-phone number happy birthday stewardship campaign targeted towards social media folks…

Your biggest weakness – not being able to think like your donor – leads to your biggest fundraising weakness – you focused fundraising. So if you can at least accept that you have a blind spot – as I and all marketers do – then we can focus on ways to fill in the gaps. So with that in mind, here are…

Three Ways To Overcome ‘Blind Spot’ Fundraising

  1. Collect more customer/donor feedback
  2. Run more tests and experiments
  3. Have a consistent framework, beyond yourself, to guide marketing

1. Collect More Customer/Donor Feedback

How often do you talk to your donors? You yourself. Major gifts people talk to donors all the time (although they may not be typical of your target audience) as do the volunteer coordinators and whoever answers the phone. But what about you? That’s where I’d start. Block off your Friday morning and call three donors every week. Have a set of questions if you like (why do you support us? how are we doing? what can we do better? is a good start) but the main thing is to call them.

You can do an annual or bi-annual survey pretty easily nowadays. After a donation or email signup or event registration, you have a quick survey or a few questions they can choose to answer (notice the after there… don’t add more things before they take the action you want them to take unless it will improve their experience). Ask and listen on social media.

There are a number of ways you can get more customer feedback which can provide insights. Which brings us to #2 as insights are great to help you…

2. Run More Tests And Experiments

Just because a customer says something – in a survey, email, or conversation – doesn’t mean that’s actually how they feel or is what they’ll do. This is always true of survey or opinion data but in the world of giving its heightened as people want to be perceived as the best versions of themselves. So, of course they don’t need or want direct mail and only want to be solicited once per year by email – why would you want to get more solicitations in the ‘costly’ mail?

So to verify if what your customers/donors are saying is true, you have to be testing. All the time. Because some bad things can happen if you listen to your donors too much (without testing). Many tools you use like MailChimp and Google Analytics make it easy to run tests. And people like NextAfter are creating more tools like research validation and Winston to help you confirm the validity of your tests and catalogue them for your (and others’) benefit.

Testing, and a culture of testing, when combined with customer feedback and insights means you’ll get it right more often than not and gives you two data sources beyond yourself. It’s also a good starting point for #3…

3. Have A Consistent Framework, Beyond Yourself, To Guide Marketing

In my work, I try (as much as I can) to have staff/internal input, as well as customer/donor input, and data. From that, I think we can get a sense of what is true and actually happens in the real world. That’s part of my fundraising framework to try to avoid the blind spot and those of my clients.

Another great framework is the Conversion Heuristic from MECLABS:


Whether you are sending an email, making a landing page, or creating year-end campaign, I think this framework can help put things in perspective. It’s a guide that shows how important the motivation of your donors are when added to your value with incentives to overcome any friction in the process and anxiety donors may have. At the NIO Summit, it was suggested to start from the right to the left and ask questions like:

  • What anxieties do donors have?
  • How can those be addressed?
  • What friction is there before they can take that action?
  • How can it be reduced?
  • What incentives can you provide to help them overcome that friction?

Value proposition and donor motivation are obviously crucial (and for another time) but if all you do is use this framework and start right to left, you’ll start to force yourself to think a bit more like a donor and what their experience is when considering supporting you.


I’m a bad marketer/fundraiser. And so are you. Because we can’t think like our donors and therefore have a big blind spot. We must acknowledge this weakness exists and then work to overcome it otherwise our fundraising will continue to be ‘us’ focused, arrogant, and ineffective. Good luck!

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